Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 111. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 9

Prophets And Kings
Day 111
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 9

When we left off Friday, the officers of King Sennacherib of Assyria were threatening Jerusalem. King Hezekiah's men listened to their words and came back to the palace to report to him. Now we see what Hezekiah does next.

2 KINGS 19:1-19
"When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord." (2 Kings 19:1) He knows his only help is in the Lord. No other nation has been able to stand against Assyria and Judah won't be able to either, not without her God.

"He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 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 all 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.'" (2 Kings 19:2-4) The field commander has blasphemed God, comparing Him to the false gods of the nations Assyria has already conquered. Hezekiah isn't certain the Lord will defend Judah because He didn't defend Israel, allowing her to be conquered and taken captive by Assyria. But he hopes the Lord will defend His own name. He compares the weakness of Judah to the weakness of a woman who has labored for many hours and has no strength left. If God does not intervene, death is imminent.

"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.'" (2 Kings 19:5-7) The Lord calls the fearsome field commander of King Sennacherib an "underling"; in the original language the word is something like "errand boy". The field commander who stood and screamed threats at the people on Jerusalem's wall is a nobody, full of air, full of empty threats, because he cannot stand against the Lord. When the field commander compared the living God to false idols, he was badly mistaken. This God he so recently blasphemed is going to deliver Judah and Jerusalem from the hand of Assyria.

Isaiah prophesies the death of King Sennacherib but it's not going to come immediately. The king of Assyria will continue to terrorize Judah while he fights another enemy on another front. "When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah." (2 Kings 19:8) Sennacherib had set up a military command center at Lachish, in the mountains of Judah, and archaeological evidence of this remains in that region. He now leaves Lachish to fight against the people of nearby Libnah and the field commander withdraws from Jerusalem to help him.

While engaged in battle with Libnah, a rumor comes to King Sennacherib. He previously accused King Hezekiah of relying on Egypt to help him, and apparently Hezekiah did hope for help from Egypt according to the book of Isaiah. In last week's study Sennacherib made fun of any man who thought he could find help in Egypt, calling Egypt a broken reed that will splinter in the hand of any man who trusts in it. But now he hears a rumor that frightens him. "Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him." (2 Kings 19:9a) Cush is the upper Nile region of Egypt and this rumor leads Sennacherib to believe that Egypt really is going to come to the aid of Judah.

Unwilling to suspend his psychological warfare against Judah, Sennacherib sends Hezekiah another threatening message. "So he again 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?'" (2 Kings 19:9b-13) Again Sennacherib fails to understand the difference between the living God and the idols of the nations. He blasphemes His name again, making Him equal with false gods. He attacks the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah, calling the Lord a liar.

This next passage is one of my favorites. Hezekiah receives this ugly letter and takes it straight to the only One who can do anything about it. "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." (2 Kings 19:14) This is a beautiful act of faith. The king of Judah is helpless against the enemy. The army of Judah is helpless against the enemy. Egypt is not coming to help, nor is any other nation. It is just Judah and her God against a mighty army. 

There are some things in my life right now that nobody can help me with but God. My Father in heaven is the only One with the power to solve my problems. I bet some of you have problems that no one but God can solve. We might as well take these things straight to Him and lay them out before Him. We come to our God in helplessness, like Hezekiah, knowing that we have an enemy we are powerless to overcome on our own. But with God on our side, we are greater than any enemy. 

"And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 'Lord, 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. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.'" (2 Kings 19:14-16) Hezekiah reminds himself that God is still on the throne. God is the maker of heaven and earth; no idols of any of the nations had any part in the creation. The false gods fell before the Assyrians because they were not gods at all, only powerless carved images. But the God of Israel is the one true God, the maker of all things, having power over all things. So Hezekiah invites the Lord to look on the blasphemous letter and read the terrible words of the king of Assyria.

"It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 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. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God." (2 Kings 19:17-19) The king of Assyria isn't boasting without reason. He and the kings before him really have conquered many nations and have thrown the idols of those nations into the fire. But that is because those gods were unable to save. The God whom Hezekiah worships is mighty to save, mighty in battle, mighty in power. Hezekiah says, "Lord, the Assyrians overthrew the pagan nations because their gods were not gods. But don't let King Sennacherib conquer Judah. Show him that You are the living God, the one and only God."

The Lord hears Hezekiah's prayer. He knows how the Assyrians have blasphemed His name and He knows Judah is unable to fight this powerful enemy. In tomorrow's study He will send comforting words to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah. The Lord will send a message of hope to Judah, calling that nation "daughter", reassuring her that her Father in heaven is going to act on her behalf.

The Lord calls me "daughter" too and the last few days I've had to take some problems and concerns to my Father (my Daddy) in heaven. He is able to do all the things that I can't. My enemy is powerful but my God is far more powerful. So I intend to do what Hezekiah did. He didn't look to the right hand or to the left hand; he simply went straight to the Lord. Our enemy is much like King Sennacherib, speaking blasphemy against God, speaking words of discouragement, telling us not to get our hopes up that God will come to the rescue. Let's shut all those lies out and do what Hezekiah did. He's aware of what his enemy is saying but those ugly words draw him closer to the living God. He refuses to surrender. He refuses to let the lies of the enemy keep him from the house of God. Let's take our problems and place them before the Lord. He knows what we're up against in this world. He sees and hears our problems just as He saw and heard Hezekiah's problems. Never mind what the enemy says against the holy name of our God, for our Redeemer is mighty to save. Our Redeemer loves us and is for us. With Him on our side, how can we lose?

Below is a worship song link that celebrates the awesome power of our Savior.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 110. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 8

Prophets And Kings
Day 110
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 8

When we left off yesterday, the men of King Sennacherib of Assyria were outside Jerusalem taunting the people. They want the people to surrender without a fight. Today's passage takes place right after the men relay Sennacherib's message to King Hezekiah's officers.

2 KINGS 18:26-37
"Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, 'Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.'" (2 Kings 18:26) Yesterday we talked about discouragement being the main weapon of Sennacherib. He hoped to discourage the people of Jerusalem to the point of surrendering. His message attacked their confidence in their king, their confidence in their allies, and their confidence in their God. The officers of King Hezekiah don't want these men speaking their ugly words in Hebrew so that all the city can understand. The officers know if the people in the city hear these words and lose heart, they may decide to come out and surrender, and there is nothing the officers or even King Hezekiah can do to stop them. 

"But the commander replied, 'Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall---who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?'" (2 Kings 18:27) This is a graphic description of what conditions will be like during a siege. Without the ability to bring fresh food and water into the city, people will begin to starve and to die of thirst. This commander accuses Hezekiah's men of trying to keep the bad news from the people of Jerusalem by asking him to speak in Aramaic. He is saying, "Why shouldn't the people on the wall know what they are up against? They will be hungry and thirsty soon. They will be so hungry and so thirsty they will do anything. Better to surrender now than let your people die."

"Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, 'Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says; Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, 'The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.'" (2 Kings 18:28-30) I picture this man stepping back so he can look up at all the people sitting along the walls, shouting so loudly he hopes his voice reaches all the way to the palace and to Hezekiah's ears. His objective is to break down the people's faith. He attacks their faith in Hezekiah and in the Lord, claiming that neither is able to help them.

Now he offers terms of surrender, "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, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!" (2 Kings 18:31-32a) These terms of surrender are false, for conditions will not be pleasant for Judah under Assyrian rule. What will actually happen is that the people of Judah will sit trapped in their own nation, under marshal law, until the king of Assyria has them transported as captives. They will never see their land again. They will never be a free people again. It was the custom of the Assyrians to remove the native people from any nation they conquered and resettle it with subjects loyal to them. If Judah surrenders she will belong to the king of Assyria; she will be enslaved by him. But this commander is trying to persuade the people that it really won't be so bad and that it's preferable to a slow death of starvation and thirst under siege.

"Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kings 18:32b-35) The commander compares the one true God to all the false gods of the pagan nations Assyria has already conquered. But God cannot be compared to any other god. Indeed, there is no other god! The prophet Isaiah, who was an adviser to King Hezekiah during the times we are studying, said this through the Spirit of the Lord, "This is what the Lord says---Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6) "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God." (Isaiah 45:5a) The king of Assyria boasts in his strength, proclaiming himself "the great king". But he will not be able to stand in the face of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God of Israel and Judah, the Maker of heaven and earth. There is only one "great king" and He is Almighty God. It's true that the gods of the other nations haven't helped them, but this is because they weren't gods. Sennacherib is making a grave mistake in assuming the God the people of Jerusalem worship is like a false idol. God will soon be repeating Sennacherib's own words back to him, "Hear the word of the great King!"

The commander finishes his speech and expects something to happen next, probably a full-scale surrender. He is looking up at the people thinking at any minute they will all thrust their hands in the air. But this is what happens instead, "But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded them, 'Do not answer him.'" (2 Kings 18:36) Hezekiah knew Sennacherib's commander would speak words to break down their morale. He knew this man would attack their faith from every angle and so he cautioned them not to say a word. When our enemy comes against us with lies, it's best not to engage in conversation with him. Remember what happened to Eve when she engaged in conversation with the serpent? He threw her into confusion. He made her doubt what God had really said. He made her believe God didn't have her best interests at heart. If we reply anything at all to the lies of our enemy, it must only be what the Lord Jesus replied during His temptation in the wilderness. He could have cut Satan to the quick in a split second but instead He simply quoted the inerrant, infallible, eternal word of God. Jesus did not enter into a debate with that serpent of old; He merely quoted the truth of God's holy word. This is why it's so important that we study our Bibles and store the truth in our hearts. Then, when Satan comes against us with his lies, we won't fall for them. We won't lose hope because we know the promises of our faithful God. 

Hezekiah's officials who went out to meet with Sennacherib's officials are putting on a brave face but they are heartbroken inside. They show no fear, no emotion at all, while standing before their enemy. But as they go back inside the city walls to speak with Hezekiah, we see the depth of their sorrow, for they tear their garments in grief. "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." (2 Kings 18:37) The tearing of their clothes may also indicate humility before God because these men know He is their only hope. Of course the taunts of Sennacherib's men have had an impact on them; not even the northern kingdom of Israel escaped being conquered by Assyria. In their hearts the people of Judah must harbor doubts as to whether God will spare them. If He allowed Israel to be taken into captivity, can they be certain He won't surrender them to the same fate? 

But there is a major difference between Israel and Judah at this time in history. Israel was still stubbornly clinging to idolatry when she was conquered and taken captive. During the reign of Hezekiah the people of Judah have turned back to their God. They have torn down all the pagan altars. They have even removed the old altars to God because these are a temptation to slip back into idolatry. They are living according to God's law and are worshiping at His temple as commanded. God is going to hear their prayers. They have returned to the Lord and so He has returned to them, which reminds me of a plea He made to the people during the time of the prophet Zechariah, "Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to Me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 1:3) During the reign of Hezekiah, the people of Judah have repented and have received forgiveness. They are in fellowship with their God. They have made peace with their mighty Defender. In the verse from Zechariah above we find the Lord speaking of Himself to the people as "the Lord Almighty" or "El Shaddai" and this is very important. This title means omnipotent, powerful, strong, mighty, glorious, and all sufficient. It can also be translated as the One who overpowers or destroys. God is saying to the people that if they will return to Him, He (the one who is able to overpower and destroy their enemy) will return to them. If they will return to the Lord their God, He (the one who is strong in power, mighty to save) will rescue them from their enemy. 

If they bow their knees to Lord their God, they will not have to bow their knees to the king of Assyria. You may have heard the saying, "He who kneels before God can stand before anyone." The northern kingdom of Israel did not kneel before God, not even during the three years she was under siege by Assyria. But before Assyria came against Judah, that nation had already voluntarily decided to kneel before God. They didn't wait for hardship to come; they were willing to kneel before God in times of prosperity. Now, as hardship rushes in like a mighty wind, how much more will they kneel before their God and Helper? How much more will His ears be open to their cries? These people have returned to Him and He has returned to them. He will hear them speedily.

We will continue our study of 2nd Kings on Tuesday, May 30th. I'll be out of town for a few days visiting my mother-in-law. She doesn't have internet and it would take me several hours to type the blog on my tablet, so we will suspend our study for a few days and pick it back up on Tuesday. In the meantime, let's still study our Bibles and spend time with our mighty God in prayer. I wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend and I wish you every blessing in the Lord. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 109. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 7

Prophets And Kings
Day 109
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 7

King Hezkiah rebelled against payin tribute to Assyria and so King Sennacherib attacked some of the outlying towns of Judah. Now him sends an army to attack Jerusalem itself.

2 KINGS 18:17-25
According some history for our background study, when Sennacherib first ascended to the throne he was considered a weak king by the nations around him. His father Shalmaneser had been a mighty military man, going off to battle and leaving his son at home to handle the administrative duties of the kingdom. When Shalmaneser died, the nations previously subject to him saw it as a good time to rebel and so Sennacherib had to constantly occupy himself with putting down rebellions in his first several years as king. According to Assyrian history, when Hezekiah defeated the Philistine territories, a ruler that Sennacherib had appointed to over Ekron was taken prisoner to Jerusalem, further fueling Sennacherib's rage against Judah. Egypt promised to help the nations who stood against Assyria, which may be one reason King Hoshea of Israel rebelled against Assyria during the time of Shalmaneser, but as we know Egypt was no help to him and he and his people were taken captive. Sennacherib believes Hezekiah too is trusting in Egypt for aid but today he promises Hezekiah that Egypt will be no more help to him than she has been to anyone else. Sennacherib will also mock the name of the living God, insisting He will be no help to him.

"The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. They called for the king; and Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to them." (2 Kings 18:17-18) These men from Assyria are bold and arrogant, secure in the power of the king behind them. They call for a meeting with the Hezekiah himself but Hezekiah sends his officials to meet these men. The Bible doesn't tell us why he doesn't come out personally but I think he did the right thing by not going. It would make him look weak as a king if he came out himself to meet anyone but another king. Plus it might have put his life in danger to meet these men and the soldiers behind them. Hezekiah is the nation's leader and must be protected just as here in the United States we have a Secret Service to protect the president.

"The field commander said to them, 'Tell Hezekiah: 'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have the counsel and the might for war---but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him." (2 Kings 18:19-21) Hezekiah probably did hope for help from Egypt, as there is evidence from the book of Isaiah that he believed Egypt would come to his aid. Sennacherib points out the foolishness of trusting in Pharaoh who will disappoint anyone who depends on him. Sennacherib has a way with words, saying that anyone who leans on the staff of Egypt will find it unable to bear his weight. It will break and splinter, piercing any man who trusts in that kingdom. According to the book of Isaiah, Egypt only made one attempt to aid the northern kingdom of Israel and they were defeated by the Assyrians in that battle. Since then Egypt has made no further attempts to help.

Sennacherib may be a brilliant orator but he is ignorant of the true nature of the God of Abraham. "But if you say to me, 'We are depending on the Lord our God'---isn't He the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem?'" (2 Kings 18:22) Hezekiah was actually doing the will of God when he tore down the old high places and altars. Sennacherib doesn't understand this and intends to suggest that God is now angry with Judah for tearing down His altars. Sennacherib wants to make the people of Judah doubt the wisdom of this, to make them doubt their king did the right thing, and to make them doubt their God is on their side.

The field commander urges Jerusalem to either fight or surrender to their army, "Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses---if you can put riders on them!" (2 Kings 18:23) The commander mocks the size of Judah's army, as if she doesn't have enough men to put on two thousand horses. He's saying that even if Judah comes against him with all she has, it will be nothing in comparison to the might of the Assyrian army behind him.

"How can you repulse one officer of the least of my master's officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord Himself told me to march against this country and destroy it." (2 Kings 18:24-25) The field commander says something like, "My master didn't even send the biggest part of his army here to Jerusalem because we won't need that much might to defeat you. You are unable to stand against me and the men in my regiment, much less against Assyria's whole army. Egypt is still licking her wounds from the last time we defeated her, so you need not expect any help from Pharaoh. He isn't coming. In addition, your own God is fighting against you. He's angry with you. I am here not only on the authority of my master the king, but on the authority of your God. Your God is done with you. Don't expect any help from Him for He is against you to destroy you."

The tactics the enemy of Judah uses are the same tactics the enemy of our souls uses. When trouble comes, Satan attacks us from the outside in. He doesn't begin with mocking our trust in God because that would offend us and quickly cause us to reject his taunts. Instead he takes the same approach Sennacherib took: first attacking our confidence in ourselves, then attacking our confidence in friends, then at last attacking our confidence in the Lord. When trouble comes, Satan says to us, "Who do you think you are that you will be able to overcome this? Look how many times you've failed in the past! Look how many things you've given up on!!" After shaking our sense of self-worth, he moves on to attack those we trust to stand with us, "And what about those friends of yours? Haven't they let you down before? Haven't they hurt your feelings? Haven't they failed to show you the sympathy you deserve? If they were unable to help you in smaller troubles, why would they be any help in this big trouble?" After shaking our sense of community and fellowship, he then moves on to strike us in our very hearts. "God? You're expecting God to come running to the rescue? God is angry with you! That's why these troubles have come. You have failed Him time and time again. Look what a loser you are! You can't even get through one day without sinning. God is sick and tired of your weaknesses and your failures. What use are you to Him? He's had it with you and has given me permission to destroy you."

King Sennacherib has sent an army to Jerusalem but he believes he can conquer the city without firing a single arrow. His main weapon is discouragement. He intends to demoralize the people to the point of giving up and surrendering without a fight. Discouragement is Satan's main weapon too. He intends to discourage us in ourselves, in our fellow believers, and in our God. Satan too wants us to surrender without a fight. He knows if he engages us in battle he's actually engaging the One who is our strength: the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Sennacherib is not quite so wise; he doesn't understand who he's dealing with when he engages the Lord God of Israel. Sennacherib is willing to fight if it comes to that, but he is arrogant enough to believe it won't come to that. 

Discouragement is a thing that can sneak up on us, taking us captive before we are aware of it. But there are three principle ways I believe we can fight back.

1. Don't speak discouragement to yourself. How many victories have we talked ourselves out of? How many battles have we lost before we ever got on the field? The things we say to ourselves are very important. The wise King Solomon once said, "The tongue has the power of life and death." (Proverbs 18:21) We have the ability to choose whether we speak words of life or words of death to ourselves. In Christ, we are the sons and daughters of God. (2 Corinthians 6:18) We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17) Let's speak these words of life to ourselves. On our own we may not be much but in Christ we are children of the King.

2. Don't listen to the lies of the enemy. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44) He said that the only thing Satan wants to do is steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) We mustn't give him the time of day. We have to stop our ears to these lies and decide to listen only to the truth of God's word. Which brings me to the third point.

3. Listen to the truth of God's word. Because we are His children, God will never abandon us. "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5) We fight discouragement with the truth of God's word. We fight the lies of our enemy with the truth of God's word, just as Christ fought the lies of Satan during the forty days in the wilderness. God speaks nothing but life to His children. He speaks nothing but words of encouragement to His children. Jesus Christ died for us so we could live. "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all---how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31)

The power of life and death is in the tongue. Let's speak words of life to ourselves today. These words of life will banish the lies of any enemy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 108. Hezekiah King Of Judah, Part 6

Prophets And Kings
Day 108
Hezekiah King Of Judah
Part 6

Today the author of 2nd Kings reminds us of what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel when she rebelled against Assyria. Judah also rebels against paying tribute to Assyria and today we find King Sennacherib coming to put down Judah's rebellion.

2 KINGS 18:7b-16, 2 CHRONICLES 32:1-8
In Chapter 17 we learned that King Hoshea of Israel stopped paying tribute to the king of Assyria and tried to make an alliance with Egypt. But Egypt was no help to him and King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up and attacked Israel. Today King Hezekiah of Judah also stops paying tribute to Assyria; however, he doesn't try to ally himself with any other nation. Although Assyria has been powerful enough to vanquish the ten northern tribes of Israel, Hezekiah has been successful in defeating the Philistines and may believe he will be successful against Assyria too. After all, at the end of our study yesterday, we learned that Hezekiah has prospered in everything he has done because he trusted in the Lord. "He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory." (2 Kings 18:7b-8) 

Now the author of 2nd Kings reminds us of what happened to Israel when she rebelled against Assyria. "In King Hezekiah's fourth year, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. At the end of three years Assyria took it. So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah's sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel. The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the  Medes. This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated His covenant---all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out." (2 Kings 18:9-12)

In the verse above I believe we find the main clue as to why Hezekiah thought he could get away with his rebellion even though Israel had not. Israel's defeat was a result of her sin. "This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God," and, "They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out." The same cannot be said for Judah at this time. Because of his unwavering faith, Hezekiah instigated a major revival in Judah. The temple is back in service and the people are bringing so many offerings that they overflow. God is blessing Judah because she has listened and obeyed. When Hezekiah rebels against Assyria, I believe he expects the Lord to reward him by avoiding any trouble with Assyria's king. But we can be right in the middle of God's will and still have troubles. Many of our troubles in this life are a result of our own wayward actions but certainly not all of them are. Just think of all the Bible characters who were living for the Lord but still endured hardships. 

The second clue as to why Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria may be found here in verse 13. Shalmaneser, who squashed Israel's rebellion, is dead and his son Sennacherib is on the throne. It seems to be typical in ancient times for rebellions to spring up at the changing of kings. But Sennacherib doesn't intend to let Judah get away with refusing to pay tribute any more than his father allowed Israel to get away with it. "In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them." (2 Kings 18:13)

"So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: 'I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay you whatever you demand of me.' The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria." (2 Kings 18:14-16) Hezekiah makes haste in attempting to make peace. He apologizes for rebelling against the king and promises to pay any penalty the king chooses to levy on him.

But we learn that paying the penalty is not enough to keep Sennacherib from coming against Judah with the intent to conquer it. As we continue our study this week, we find Sennacherib's army coming to attack Jerusalem itself. He will send a message to Hezekiah taunting him about his faith in God. He will tell Hezekiah that no nation's god has withstood him and neither will Judah's God. The king will boast that no god ever has or ever will be able to stand up to him. 

The author of 2nd Chronicles relates Hezekiah's troubles to us like this, "After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him." (2 Chronicles 32:1-3) I love it that the author says these things happened, "After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done." Don't we tend to think this way when trouble comes? Don't we say to ourselves, "After all that I've faithfully done, why would the Lord let this trouble come into my life?" We tend to feel astonished and, if we are honest, we feel offended. We feel offended at God that He would let us suffer. We can understand Him allowing wicked people to suffer, just as Hezekiah understood why God allowed idolatrous Israel to suffer. But we can't understand why He would allow us to suffer, we who are walking as closely with our Savior as we know how, we who are faithfully attending church and reading our Bibles and praying to our Lord. When bitter hardship strikes us, we want to look up and spread out our hands to God and say, "You mean You are letting this happen to me, after all that I have so faithfully done?" I believe Hezekiah is every bit as shocked as we often are. Judah is walking more faithfully with her God than she has in a long time. God has been with Hezekiah and has prospered him in all his work up til now. Why has this trouble come? Why does Judah now stand threatened by a pagan king? Why is Judah facing the same fate Israel faced?

"They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and stream that flowed through the land. 'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?' they said. Then he worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the terraces of the City of David. He also made large numbers of weapons and shields." (2 Chronicles 32:4-5) Hezekiah fully intends to appeal to God for help but he also intends to do all that is humanly possible to defend his nation and his people. There are some occasions in the Bible where God instructs His people to sit still and see what He will do, but there are many more occasions where God fights alongside His people. In our own lives God sometimes simply reaches down and whisks us out of trouble, without a hair on our heads harmed, without us having to lift a finger. But many more times we have to go into the battle; we have to fight with the Lord our God fighting right beside us. Whichever method God chooses, He has a reason for it. I believe He chooses whichever method better builds our faith. There are times when a situation is so large and looks so hopeless that there's literally nothing we can do but be still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10) In those circumstances, our faith is strengthened by knowing we did nothing and God did everything. There are other circumstances when God wants us to know that, even if we go through the fire, He will be with us. He will be with us on the battle lines, our partner in victory. This is when He assures us, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Isaiah 43:2) God may take us through the fire but it isn't for the purpose of consuming us; it's for the purpose of refining us like fine silver. It's to burn off the dross so that, when we emerge on the other side, we are an even finer vessel for His honor.

Hezekiah fortifies and defends Jerusalem as much as humanly possible and then trusts God to do the rest. After doing all that can be done, he addresses the people with a message of hope. "He appointed military officers over the people and assembled them before him in the square at the city gate and encouraged them with these words: 'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.' And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said." (2 Chronicles 32:6-8) 

Hezekiah, though he lived many centuries before the Apostle Paul, is living as Paul instructs God's people to live in this dark and troubled world, "Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13) Paul tells us to buckle on the belt of truth, with the breastplate of righteousness fastened over our hearts, with our feet shod with the gospel. We are to carry the shield of faith and wear the helmet of salvation, with the sword of the Spirit in our hand. Fitted out this way, we are covered from head to toe by our God. We are dressed for battle because there will be battles we have to fight, but we are fighting them in the strength of the Lord God, not in our own strength. Like Hezekiah, we only do what humanly can be done, knowing the rest is up to God. Hezekiah is standing in faith, knowing he is no match for the king of Assyria in his own strength, but knowing that no king and no kingdom is a match for Almighty God. He believes God is with him and God is for him. Sennacherib, with his vast army, is already outnumbered and defeated even though he doesn't know it yet. God is going to fight for Judah. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 107. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 5

Prophets And Kings
Day 107
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 5

We study the provisions for the priests today.

2 CHRONICLES 31:1-21
Today's passage takes place right after the Passover celebration we studied yesterday. "When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property." (2 Chronicles 31:1) We already learned that Hezekiah had removed the idolatrous things from Jerusalem and now the people of Judah destroy the pagan altars in the outer reaches of the kingdom. The Israelites who came to the Passover do likewise in their own territories of Ephraim and Manasseh. 

"Hezekiah assigned the priests and Levites to divisions---each of them according to their duties as priests or Levites---to offer burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, to minister, to give thanks and to sing praises at the gates of the Lord's dwelling." (2 Chronicles 31:2) King David had set the priesthood up into divisions, with twenty-four courses of priests to serve on a rotating schedule. But the system broke down over the years as the nation fell into sin. Now Hezekiah reinstates the divisions and the courses of priests.

"The king contributed from his own possessions for the morning and evening burnt offerings and for the burnt offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals as written in the Law of the Lord. He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord. As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything. The people of Israel and Judah who lived in the towns of Judah also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord their God, and they piled them in heaps. They began doing this in the third month and finished in the seventh month. When Hezekiah and his officials came and saw the heaps, they praised the Lord and blessed His people Israel." (2 Chronicles 31:3-8) The priests, by God's law, were intended to make their living from their service at the temple. They were to receive portions of everything brought to the temple. But since the temple has been shut for some time, they are starting over with nothing. Hezekiah sets the example for the people by being the first to give. He brings offerings from his own household and urges the people to do likewise. 

"Hezekiah asked the priests and Levites about the heaps; and Azariah the chief priest, from the family of Zadok, answered, 'Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed His people, and this great amount is left over.'" (2 Chronicles 31:9-10) The people are so willing to give that there is more than enough, so much that it has begun to pile up in large heaps. This is what the Lord does with willing hearts! He blesses the willing heart. He blesses the work of the hands of people with willing hearts.

"Hezekiah gave orders to prepare storerooms in the temple of the Lord, and this was done. Then they faithfully brought in the contributions, tithes and dedicated gifts. Konaniah, a Levite, was the overseer in charge of these things, and his brother Shemei was next in rank. Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismakiah, Mahath and Benaiah were assistants of Konaniah and Shemei his brother. All these served by appointment of King Hezekiah and Azariah the official in charge of the temple of God." (2 Chronicles 31:11-13) Just because we have plenty doesn't mean we should be wasteful. God is not wasteful and neither is Hezekiah. He commands the storerooms to be made ready for organizing the offerings. The contributions likely aren't thrown inside the storerooms in a heap as they were outside but are probably neatly arranged in an orderly system so that whatever needs to be brought out can be found easily. 

"Kore son of Imnah the Levite, keeper of the East Gate, was in charge of the freewill offerings given to God, distributing the contributions made to the Lord and also the consecrated gifts. Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah and Shekaniah assisted him faithfully in the towns of the priests, distributing to their fellow priests according to their divisions, old and young alike." (2 Chronicles 31:14-15) These men are faithful to their duties and receive the honor of having their names written in the holy Bible. Hezekiah put Kore in charge of the freewill offerings because Kore is a man who can be trusted. And we are told that the other men "assisted him faithfully". We are living too late in history to have our names written in the holy Bible but we can be sure our God sees everything we do in faith. He sees it when we carry out our duties dependably and honestly. He sees it when we do what's right even when we have an opportunity to do what's wrong. 

"In addition, they distributed to the males three years old or more whose names were in the genealogical records---all who would enter the temple of the Lord to perform the daily duties of their various tasks, according to their responsibilities and their divisions. And they distributed to the priests enrolled by their families in the genealogical records and likewise to the Levites twenty years old or more, according to their responsibilities and their divisions. They included all the little ones, the wives, and the sons and daughters of the whole community listed in these genealogical records. For they were faithful in consecrating themselves." (2 Chronicles 31:16-18) The genealogies are used to calculate which families are of the Levites so the offerings can be distributed to them. God didn't give the Levites a portion of the promised land; instead He gave them a portion of the temple offerings. This is their livelihood. This is how they provide for their wives and children and keep their households going. God did this so the priests could devote their lives to studying the word of God and to ministering in the temple and to ministering to the people. He did not want them distracted by having to make a living on the side. 

"As for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who lived on the farmlands around their towns or in any other towns, men were designated by name to distribute portions to every male among them and to all who were recorded in the genealogies of the Levites." (2 Chronicles 31:19) Hezekiah sets up a very orderly system for this distribution, both in the city and in the country, setting men in charge of the distribution in all the districts of Judah.

"This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God's temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered." (2 Chronicles 31:20-21) I wish we had leaders like this today who seek the face of the Lord above all else, who minister to the citizens in ways that are right in the Lord's eyes. We see quite a contrast between King Hezekiah and most of today's political figures. 

Hezekiah sought the Lord with his whole heart and the Lord rewarded him by making all his work to prosper. Through this godly king, the Lord brought about a revival in Judah, healing the hearts of the people and causing their blessings to overflow. What wonderful words are written about this king. And we can be like him. We can follow his example. The Scriptures tell us that Hezekiah:
1. Did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. We too can do this. In Christ, we can live lives that are good and right and faithful in the eyes of our God.
2. Hezekiah served the Lord in the temple and was obedient to His laws and commands. Hezekiah knew the word of God. We must know it before we can obey it. He was a doer of the word and not a hearer only, the type of character the Lord's brother James commended in James 1:22.
3. He sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. Every day Hezekiah sought the Lord. He had a heart like David's, a heart that said, "You God, are my God; earnestly I seek You; I thirst for You, my whole body longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1) David's heart thirsted for the Lord like a man thirsting for water in the desert. Hezekiah's heart thirsted in the same way. The most important thing to him was knowing God and, because he knew God, everything he did for the Lord was done wholeheartedly. 

Hezekiah was a mortal human being just like us. He wasn't perfect. He wasn't able to save his own soul. He was confronted with the same trials and temptations we all are confronted with. But he made God his main priority in life. He looked to the One who could make him right, to the One who could save his soul, to the One who could deliver him from troubles. And because of this he receives the honor of being presented to us as a good and godly king, a king like David, a man after God's own heart. We can be men and women after God's own heart. We can follow in Hezekiah's footsteps. We can be known by our God as faithful servants, men and women with the courage to stand for something in this dark world, men and women who seek His face above all else. 

So far Hezekiah has enjoyed a time of prosperity, It's easy to sing the praises of the Lord in the good times but the test of our faith is whether we can sing His praises in the bad times. Trouble is about to come against Judah and Hezekiah will do what his whole life has prepared him to do: stand firm in his faith in the Lord. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 106. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 4

Prophets And Kings
Day 106
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 4

Now that the temple is rededicated to the Lord, Hezekiah celebrates the Passover.

2 CHRONICLES 30:1-27
"Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord,in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. The king and all his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover of the Lord, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in such large numbers according to what was written." (2 Chronicles 30:1-5) Some scholars believe that when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, the king of Assyria carried away the golden calves the people were using in place of coming to the temple. If so, Hezekiah must have thought this was a wonderful opportunity to gather the wayward nation back into the fold. He invites all Israel to Jerusalem for Passover.

"At the king's command, couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read: 'People of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your parents and your fellow Israelites, who were unfaithful to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, so that He made them an object of horror, as you see. Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord. Come to His sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the Lord your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you. If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if You return to Him.'" (2 Chronicles 30:6-9) Hezekiah has a good basis for believing the Lord will bring the captives back if the hearts of Israel return to Him. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed, "When Your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and give praise to Your name, praying and making supplication to You in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel and bring them back to the land You gave to their ancestors." (1 Kings 8:33-34)

Through King Hezekiah, God appeals to His people. He extends His hand of mercy to them. He invites the remnant left in Israel to come to the temple to worship, to turn from their sins, to repent, and to pray for the captives so that they would be brought back. "The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord." (2 Chronicles 30:10-12) As in today's times, there are those who scorn the word of the Lord. But there are also those who listen. Our job is to love others and tell them God loves them. We are to tell them the gospel of the One who died for them, and then we are to leave the rest up to God. We cannot, ourselves, save a single soul. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. Some will resist Him to their own peril. Some will hear His voice and obey.

"A very large crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They removed the altars in Jerusalem and cleared away the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Valley." (2 Chronicles 30:13-14) We studied about this earlier in 2nd Kings. Hezekiah wants no trace of false gods to remain in the land. He doesn't even leave the old altars where people sacrificed to the Lord before the temple was built. These altars are too much of a temptation. They will cause the people to slip back into their old habits. Having the old altars in the land is like surrounding a recovering alcoholic with liquor; it's too much for them to handle right now. They are still only a step or two away from their previous practices and it wouldn't take much to send them spiraling back down.

"They slaughtered the Passover Lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests splashed against the altar the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Mannaseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God---the Lord, the God of their ancestors---even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.' And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people." (2 Chronicles 30:15-20) The people and priests from the northern kingdom have fallen so far from the true worship of God that they have forgotten the rules. They have failed to make themselves clean before coming to the temple to participate in this holy festival. But Hezekiah prays for the people, much like Moses prayed for the people in the wilderness, and God hears his prayer. The Lord looks on the people's hearts and not on their unclean hands. They have come to Jerusalem because something in them desires to know the God of Israel. They have obeyed His voice and have come to the temple with repentant hearts. 

This too is like our world today. The only thing I feel called to do is tell people about Jesus and about what He did for them in love. It's His job to clean up anything in their lives that needs cleaning up. I can't change another living soul. I'm not even able to change myself; it takes a holy God to instruct me in what is right and wrong, to tell me what I need to eliminate from my attitudes and behaviors. If we can just lead people to Christ, He is more than able to do any cleaning up that needs doing. I trust Him with that. 

"The Israelites who were present in  Jerusalem celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests praised the Lord every day with resounding instruments dedicated to the Lord." (2 Chronicles 30:21) What a wonderful celebration this must have been. I'm reminded of how the father of the prodigal son celebrated the son's return. God must have felt just like the father in that parable. His wayward children of Israel were home, in His temple. 

"Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord. For the seven days they ate their assigned portion and offered fellowship offerings and praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors." (2 Chronicles 30:21) Hezekiah is a man with a gift for encouragement. He sees the hard work and dedication of the priests. He sees that they have studied in order to perform this festival exactly as proscribed by the law. And he makes certain to let them know he appreciates their hard work and dedication.

"The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully." (2 Chronicles 30:23) Have you ever had such a good time in the house of the Lord that you didn't want to leave? I think that's how the people feel. Something in their souls is renewed. Their hope is restored. The presence and power of the Lord is with them and they don't want the celebration to end. Of course the Lord will go back home with each of them and be present in their daily lives, but there's something about being assembled together in unity of spirit. The joy of each person increases the joy of the person beside him. There's something about God's people being gathered together in worship that strengthens the individual faith of everyone present.

"Hezekiah king of Judah provided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats." (2 Chronicles 30:24a) It might have been a hardship for some of the travelers to buy food for their families during the additional seven days and Hezekiah makes sure that nobody has to go home for lack of food. He and his officials provide food for everyone who has assembled so that no one goes without.

"A great number of priests consecrated themselves. The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the foreigners who had come from Israel and also those who resided in Judah. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood up to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place." (2 Chronicles 30:24b-27) This celebration is very much like the celebration that took place when Solomon first dedicated the temple. A great revival has broken out, all because one godly man stood up for the Lord.

We may feel doubtful such a revival could happen in the United States but why should we limit God? He spoke the universe into existence! Would revival be difficult for Him? He called the dead back to life! Would it be hard for Him to call the spiritually dead to new life in Christ? One king dared to stand up and challenge the hearts of a few priests, priests who had given up and lost their purpose, and somehow a fire began to burn in their souls. They in turn lit a fire in the souls of the citizens. The next thing we know, not only Judah but many from wayward Israel are rejoicing in the house of God. How many souls might be saved if we dare to believe God can do great things in our nation?

Lately every time I read the news online, I get upset, particularly whenever I read any political articles. And it isn't just the articles themselves, but also the angry comments underneath them. I've had to cut back on following the news because it discourages me. So I'm proposing an experiment that might help us all to feel better. For seven days, why don't we forgo the news and spend that time in the encouraging word of God instead? Sometimes when we read or watch the news we tend to feel like the whole world is falling apart. But when we read the Scriptures we find the Lord Jesus Christ saying, "I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) I wonder how much better we would feel if we took the time we normally spend following the news and spent it in the word of God instead. I wonder how much more hope we'd have. I wonder how much more peace we'd have. I'm not suggesting we be ignorant of what's going on around us, just that we take a break from it. I'm willing to try it if you are. I'm willing to try it and see what difference it makes in our lives a week from today. Instead of turning on CNN for seven days, let's open the book of God. Instead of feeling our blood pressure rise and our anxiety levels increase at the political bickering, let's bow our heads in prayer to the only One who is able to help us. Let's concentrate on the One who promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 105. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 3

Prophets And Kings
Day 105
King Hezekiah Of Judah 
Part 3

Today we continue studying King Hezekiah and how he reopened and rededicated the temple of the Lord.

2 CHRONICLES 29:25-36
"He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king's seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through the prophets. So the Levites stood ready with David's instruments, and the priests with their trumpets." (2 Chronicles 29:25-26) Hezekiah is careful to do everything exactly as God instructed through the prophets.

"Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering on the altar. As the offering began, singing to the Lord began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the musicians played and the trumpets sounded. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed." (2 Chronicles 29:27-28) I suspect David's instruments had lain unused for a very long time. Nobody was coming to the house of the Lord to sing His praises anymore.

There is healing for our souls in praising the Lord. No matter what our circumstances are, no matter how bad we feel either physically or mentally, praising the Lord works like a healing balm on us. David learned this while he guarded the sheep as a young boy. He learned it while he played the lyre for a mad king. He learned it while he led the armies of Israel. He learned it in his darkest hours, when his life was in jeopardy from King Saul and later when even one of his own sons conspired against him. David knew he could get through anything if he sang the praises of the Lord.

In Psalm 5 we find him saying, "Let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy."
In Psalm 7, "I will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High."
In Psalm 11, "Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what He has done."
In Psalm 13, "I will sing the Lord's praise, for He has been good to me."
In Psalm 18, "You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man You rescued me. Therefore I will praise You, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of Your name."
In Psalm 21, "Be exalted in Your strength, Lord; we will sing and praise Your might."
In Psalm 27, "Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at His sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord."
In Psalm 30, "You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever."

We could go on and on studying all the instances of David singing to the Lord, but we can see just how important this form of praise was in David's life. If singing the praises of the Lord got David through all his troubles, surely it will help us in our troubles too. My family and I will gather at church this morning and one of the things I look forward to most is the singing. Often there is nothing that uplifts my soul more than songs sung to the Lord. In the car I keep a collection of worship music CDs and my radio buttons are set to all the local Christian radio stations. I love to drive and sing along with these songs, even though I have no talent, but the Lord thankfully looks on the heart and not on whether I have a good singing voice. The other day I meant to take a particular exit to refill a prescription face cream I get from my dermatologist. One of my favorite worship songs came on and I began to sing along and the next thing I knew I was two exits past where I meant to turn off, so powerful was the presence of the Lord with me. In Psalm 22:3 David wrote that the Lord inhabits the praises of His people. I have to agree with David, for it seems God feels most present when we lift up praise and thankfulness to Him. When we are in this attitude, He pours out His spirit on us and makes Himself known.

"When the offerings were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped. King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the Lord with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises and bowed down and worshiped." (2 Chronicles 29:29-30) I think there is nothing more beautiful and precious in the sight of the Lord than the sight of His people bowing down in thankfulness. The Lord doesn't need our praise but we need to praise. We need to recognize the awesome power of One so much bigger than us. We need to admit we can't make it without Him. We need the kind of help that only He can give.

"Then Hezekiah said, 'You have now dedicated yourselves to the Lord. Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the temple of the Lord.' So the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings. The number of burnt offerings that the assembly brought was seventy bulls, a hundred rams and two hundred male lambs---all of them for burnt offerings to the Lord. The animals consecrated as sacrifices amounted to six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep and goats." (2 Chronicles 29:32-33) A burnt offering was often used for cleansing, for cleansing of personal sin and for cleansing of national sin, so it's appropriate that so many of these were offered when the temple was rededicated. The people had made themselves unclean with idols and they had defiled the temple by placing objects inside it which were against God's law. When a burnt offering is a whole burnt offering, it is an offering made for atonement. Many times when a person brought an offering, only certain parts of the animal were kept as an offering and the rest could be eaten by the bringer and his family. But in a whole burnt offering, the entire sacrifice was given up to the Lord; the person could keep none of it back. It was a complete relinquishing of the finest animal of the herd which signified the person surrendering all to the Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ gave all of Himself on our behalf as an offering of atonement. He held nothing back. He was poured out for us, wholly surrendered to the will of the Father. He gave His best because He was the best, a perfect spotless Lamb.

"The priests, however, were too few to skin all the burnt offerings; so their relatives the Levites helped them until the task was finished and until the other priests had been consecrated, for the Levites had been more conscientious in consecrating themselves than the priests had been." (2 Chronicles 29:34) The people brought so many sacrifices that there weren't enough priests to handle them and so more priests had to be consecrated to help perform these duties. 

"There were burnt offerings in abundance, together with the fat of the fellowship offerings and the drink offerings that accompanied the burnt offerings. So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people, because it was done so quickly." (2 Chronicles 29:35-36) When the Lord gets ready to move, He moves. We may have to wait a while for a particular prayer to be answered, but when the time is right, He doesn't waste any time. The people are thankful that the work was accomplished so quickly. They give the Lord praise for what He has enabled them to do. They have worked hard themselves to get to this point but they give all the glory to the Lord for the health and strength and talent to do this work. 

We have nothing that we got on our own. The Lord gave us our very life. He gave us whatever health we possess, whatever intelligence, whatever talents. We wouldn't be able to take the next breath unless it was His will. How can we really take the credit for anything? All the praise and honor and glory for all things should be His and His alone.

Sing to the Lord today, whether you have a beautiful singing voice or whether you sing like I do....with lots of enthusiasm but with little skill. See if it doesn't uplift your spirit. See if it doesn't renew your hope. See if it doesn't improve your outlook on the future. The Lord is God and He is our King, seated on the throne forever, our Helper and our Redeemer. We praise His name.

Below is a lovely worship song to our King.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 104. King Hezekiah of Judah, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 104
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 2

King Hezekiah is a godly king, a man who follows the Lord, and the first thing him does after becoming king is reopen the temple.

2 CHRONICLES 29:3-24
I think it tells us the most important thing we need to know about Hezekiah's character that the first thing he did after becoming king is to reopen the temple. His father had shut the doors and had even taken articles from the temple to use in his service to foreign gods. But as soon as he ascends to the throne, Hezekiah brings back the worship of the one true God and, as we saw yesterday, rid the land of all the other altars. "In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites, assembled them in the square on the east side and said: 'Listen to me, Levites! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary. Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook Him. They turned their faces away from the Lord's dwelling place and turned their backs on Him." (2 Chronicles 29:3-6) As we learned during the reign of Hezekiah's father, even the priesthood went astray. The high priest Uriah actually built a pagan altar for King Ahaz. So it's not just the temple that needs to be cleansed and consecrated; the priests need their hearts cleansed and consecrated too.

Hezekiah continues listing the sins of his father and the sins of the fathers of the people of Judah, "They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel. Therefore, the anger of the Lord has fallen on Judah and Jerusalem; He has made them an object of dread and horror and scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. This is why our fathers have fallen by the sword and why our sons and daughters and our wives are in captivity. Now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that His fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him and serve Him, to minister before Him and to burn incense." (2 Chronicles 29:7-11) The words of Hezekiah are words of true repentance. He admits to the sins of his own family and the sins of the nation. He agrees that the Lord is righteous in judging them for their sins. He intends to renew the covenant with the Lord and bring the people back into fellowship with Him. John the Baptist spoke of "fruit in keeping with repentance" when he warned the religious leaders in Israel of the wrath to come if they and the nation did not repent. The fruit of repentance is evidence of a changed heart. It's the actions that prove a person has been made right with God. When we come to Christ, He changes us. Everyone around us can see the changes in our attitudes and behaviors. This is fruit of repentance. Hezekiah is displaying this fruit by honoring the Lord with his actions.

Hezekiah's zeal lights a fire in the hearts of the priests. He reminds them of their calling, that the Lord has chosen the tribe of Levi to serve Him as priests. This calling is an honor these men should feel blessed to perform. "Then these Levites set to work: from the Kohathites, Mahath the son of Amasai and Joel son of Azariah; from the Merarites, Kish son of Abdi and Azariah son of Jehalellel; from the Gershonites, Joah son of Zimmah and Eden son of Joah; from the descendants of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeiel; from the descendants of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah, from the descendants of Heman, Jehiel and Shimei; from the descendants of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel." (2 Chronicles 29:12-14) It only took one man to inspire a revival in Judah. Being the king, he had a broader influence over the people than each of us may have, but we each have influence in our families, in our workplaces, in our circle of friends, and in our communities. If those around us see how excited we are about serving the Lord, who knows what great things we might inspire them to do for the Lord?

"When they had assembled their fellow Levites and consecrated themselves, they went in to purify the temple of the Lord, as the king had ordered, following the word of the Lord. The priests went into the sanctuary of the Lord to purify it. They brought out to the courtyard of the Lord's temple everything unclean that they found in the temple of the Lord. The Levites took it and carried it out to the Kidron Valley. They began the consecration on the first day of the first month, and by the eighth day of the month they reached the portico of the Lord. For eight more days they consecrated the temple of the Lord itself, finishing on the sixteenth day of the month." (2 Chronicles 29:15-17) The priests waste no time in carrying out the king's orders. They are in a hurry, not just because he is the king, but because he has restored something in them they had lost. They had lost their purpose in life. They were never intended to serve at the altars of false gods, though some of them likely did during the reigns of the wicked kings. The ones who did not found themselves without anything to do after King Ahaz shut the doors of the temple. It's very depressing to live life without a purpose. But when the Lord is at the center of our lives, we will never have to face that. There will be times of trouble and disappointment in life. There will be times of tragedy in life. But as long as we hold firmly to the One who holds us, we will always have a reason for living. We will always have a reason to get up each morning and serve the One who gave His life for us. 

"Then they went in to King Hezekiah and reported: 'We have purified the entire temple of the Lord, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the table for setting out the consecrated bread, with all its articles. We have prepared and consecrated all the articles that King Ahaz removed in his unfaithfulness while he was king. They are now in front of the Lord's altar.'" (2 Chronicles 29:18-19) These men don't fear naming the sins of Hezekiah's father because Hezekiah himself has named his father's sins.

"Early the next morning King Hezekiah gathered all the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord. They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer those on the altar of the Lord. So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests took the blood and splashed it against the altar; next they slaughtered the rams and splashed their blood against the altar; then they slaughtered the lambs and splashed their blood against the altar. The goats for the sin offering were brought before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. The priests then slaughtered the goats and presented their blood on the altar for a sin offering to atone for all Israel, because the king had ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel." (2 Chronicles 29:20-24) I and many of my readers are animal lovers and we find it disturbing to think of these animal sacrifices. I am thankful that, because Christ gave Himself for us, we no longer have to perform these services. But we must remember that God would have been righteous and holy if He had commanded the blood of the people to be splashed against the altar, rather than the blood of sacrificial animals. It is mankind who sinned. It is mankind who owes a death for sin. But until Christ came, the Lord allowed these animals to stand in man's place. He was not willing to wipe humans out because of sin and so He provided a substitute. But as the author of the book of Hebrews points out, it was not possible for the blood of animals to permanently take away the sins of man. These offerings had to be made time after time, year after year, because these animals did not possess the power to cover sins forever. Because mankind owes a death for sins, it took a Man to make an offering to cover sins forever, but it couldn't be just any man. It had to be a perfect Man. It had to be God Himself, the only holy and righteous One. Only His blood possesses the power to make us clean forever before a holy God.

The people lay their hands on the goats of the atonement offering, signifying that their sins are being transferred to these innocent animals, symbolizing the fact that the blood of these animals is accepted by a merciful God in place of the blood of man. This is a solemn moment and I believe God intends us to be disturbed by animal sacrifice. I believe He intended the people of Judah and Israel to be disturbed by it. They needed to understand that the innocent was taking the place of the guilty. They needed to feel the gravity of innocent blood being shed in place of the blood of the sinner. Before the Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross, He too was touched by many hands. He was touched during his life by those who loved Him and by those who hated Him. During His trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, He was touched by both Jews and Gentiles. He was beaten by both Jews and Gentiles. He was rejected by both Jews and Gentiles. This signifies the transference of the sins of all nations onto Him. The innocent was going to the cross for the guilty. The blood of the innocent was being shed for sinners. He was dying for every nation and tribe so that whoever comes to Him in faith can be made clean forever in the sight of a holy God.

We will continue our study of the dedication of the temple tomorrow, for it's quite lengthy. Hezekiah has made a good start as King of Judah. He has done the best thing he could possibly do for the nation. One man stood up and started a revival. What might you or I be able to start in our workplaces or in our neighborhoods if people see how excited we are about our relationship with Jesus? How might we be able to encourage people to find their purpose in Him? We can never lose everything as long as we have Jesus. He didn't promise us an easy life but He promised us a life with purpose. When we have that fire burning in our hearts that King Hezekiah had, we have purpose. We have hope. We have a reason to get out of bed in the morning and press on, no matter what is against us. And that purpose will ignite a fire in the hearts of those around us, just as it ignited a fire in the hearts of the priests. People are dying for lack of love, dying for lack of hope, dying because they feel life has no purpose. Let's go out today and be the light of Christ in a dark world.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 103. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 103
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 1

Today we begin our study of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of Judahs best kings.

2 KINGS 18:1-7a
"In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done." (2 Kings 18:1-3) Somehow, from the wicked household of King Ahaz, a good king emerges. Hezekiah must have been deeply affected by the fact that his father sacrificed a son to the Caananite god Molech. (2 Kings 16:3) And maybe Hezekiah took heed to what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel because of her idolatry. We don't know exactly what shaped Hezekiah into a godly man but this is evidence that God can make something out of us, no matter what our background. God is not so much concerned with where we have been than with where we are going. Hezekiah was not even the natural heir, according to birth order, since it's likely it was Ahaz's firstborn son he sacrificed to a false god. The next son in line was probably the king's son Maaseiah, who was killed while leading Judah's army. (2 Chronicles 28:7) This would make Hezekiah third in line for the throne, according to birth order, but it would seem he is God's chosen man for this particular time in Judah. He follows the Lord like "his father David", not like his father Ahaz.

Hezekiah does something that all the kings of Judah before him should have done, "He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)" (2 Kings 18:4) Hezekiah removes every item in the land that tempts the people to idolatry. The last thing he wants is for Judah to go into captivity just as Israel has gone into captivity. As long as these high places and pagan idols remain, the people will flock to them. But if nothing but the temple of the Lord remains, Hezekiah hopes the hearts of the people will turn back to their God.

We find the account of the bronze snake in Numbers 21 when the children of Israel complained against the Lord and against Moses. They didn't believe the Lord was going to protect and care for them. They accused Him of bringing them out into the desert to die. So the Lord allowed some of the people to be attacked by venomous snakes in the wilderness, causing many of those bitten to die. The people recognized their trouble as discipline for sin and repented, saying to Moses, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you." (Numbers 21:7a) Moses prayed to the Lord for the people and the Lord instructed him to fashion a bronze snake on a pole so the people could look up to it and be healed. From then on, if anyone was bitten by a snake, they could look up to the bronze snake and be cured of the venom. 

This passage is difficult to understand, for the Israelites were forbidden to make images except in the case of God telling them what they could craft, such as this bronze snake and the cherubim on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, for example. This is one of very few instances where the Lord tells anyone to make an image of anything. When the children of Israel were in the desert with Moses, they understood that they had sinned and they were able to see the connection between their sin and their current affliction of the snakebites. In my background study I found that bronze is connected with judgment and righteousness, so the Lord tells Moses to make the snake out of bronze to symbolize that the snakebites are a judgment for the people's sins. But the bronze snake is also a symbol of God turning away the judgment if the people will look up to the bronze snake in faith, faith in God, not faith in the snake itself. The snake wasn't saving them. This object stood for God's mercy, that if the people would look to it in faith believing God was able to save them, believing God was able to take away sin and make them clean, they would be healed. The people couldn't heal themselves either of their snakebites or their sinful natures. They had to look to God for help. This is why Jesus applied the passage from the book of Numbers to Himself when He predicted His death on the cross, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him." (John 3:14) We can't save ourselves or heal our own sinful natures. But Jesus Christ can. When He hung on the cross it symbolized God's judgment on sin, just as the bronze snake symbolized God's judgment on sin. But also like the bronze snake, the cross symbolized God's power to turn away the judgment from us if we look to Jesus in faith. Jesus took our penalty on Himself and now all we can do is look to Him for salvation. We must look to Jesus and what He did on the cross as the only way into the presence of God, the only way to be washed clean and made whole.

Over about eight centuries the people have begun to look on the bronze snake as if it has healing power in itself, as if it is a god, and they have been burning incense to it. This is how far they have fallen into idolatry. They have forgotten that the bronze snake was merely a symbol of God's saving power. They have named it Nehushtan, which appears to simply be a word that means or sounds like "bronze snake". They've given it a proper name as if it is a god and so, even though their highly revered forefather Moses crafted this it by command of God, King Hezekiah destroys it. It has become yet one more object of idolatry, no longer just a treasured artifact of Israel's history, no longer an object to remind the people of the one true God and His mercy.

"Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook." (2 Kings 18:1-7a) The Lord is faithful to this man to is faithful to Him. The Lord is faithful even to Judah in her sin, because in these last days of the kingdom the Lord gives them a godly king. The Lord gives the people another opportunity to repent and turn back to Him. In tomorrow's study we will find King Hezekiah opening the doors his father shut, the doors to the temple, and he will re-consecrate the temple to the Lord and will renew the nation's covenant with the Lord. The people who lived in these times will never be able to stand up in the judgment and claim that God didn't give them an opportunity to hear the truth, that He didn't give them a godly leader, that He didn't provide them with a good example. They won't be able to pretend ignorance of God's covenant or God's laws. 

How poorly will a nation like America fare in the judgment when we have been given every opportunity to hear the gospel and to know what our holy God requires of us? Nobody is taking our Bibles away from us. Nobody is locking the church doors and forbidding us to enter. Nobody is blocking the religious channels on our televisions or blocking the Christian websites on our computers. We have been blessed beyond measure and if we stand before God having neglected His word and having rejected the gospel, we stand before Him with even less excuse for our sins than ancient Israel and Judah. The word of God is available to us in any form we could possibly want. It's free. It's being broadcast twenty-four hours a day. We have the gospel available to us in ways Israel and Judah never dreamed of. What excuse will we have for not knowing what God's word says and for not obeying it?

This warning ministers to me as much as to anyone else. I need to be in the word of God more. I need to learn more of the One who loves me more than anyone has ever loved me. I need to daily grow in His word and in the faith. There are Christians in the world who are killed for possessing a page of Scripture and yet they are willing to take that risk. The gospel means so much to them they will die for the One who died for them. There are Christians meeting together secretly to study and pray, realizing that they are in jeopardy every hour. But they count Jesus worthy of the risk. Today's study challenges me to step up my Bible reading. The Scriptures are available to me whenever I want them and in whatever form I want them, but someday they may not be. We can't be complacent and lazy, believing a time of persecution can never fall on us, believing our rights can never be taken away. We have no guarantee of that. If tomorrow all the church doors were locked and it became a crime to own a Bible, would we have enough Scripture stored up in our hearts to make it through? Would we know enough about our God to trust in Him?