August 18, 2015.
Daily Reading: II Kings 16-20.
Background: II Kings 11-15.
Concepts and Connections.
Ahaz in Judah: After Jotham died, his son Ahaz took the throne in his stead and would reign for 16 years. As so many of the succession of kings of Israel that came before him, Ahaz did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, even to the point of offering his children as sacrifices, which to the Lord is an abomination (see Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5, Jeremiah 32:35). He walked in all the evil ways of the nations around them, offering to their gods and abiding by their customs. Rezin, king of Syria, made war with Judah during the days of Ahaz, and whereas it seems that Rezin was unable to fully conquer Judah, his presence and advancement in certain areas made Ahaz uneasy, to the point where he sent to the king of Assyria, along with a monetary gift, a plea for help against Rezin. This plea was answered, and the king of Assyria marched against Damascus and killed Rezin. When Ahaz went to visit the king of Assyria after the battle, he saw an altar in Damascus that he liked, and sent the plans for it to Uriah the priest to make a copy of it in Jerusalem, taking down and moving the altar of the Lord that was in the house of the Lord. Ahaz did many things to defile the house of the Lord in a similar manner, destroying what had been set up at the command of the Lord. After his death, his son Hezekiah reigned in his place. We will see that Hezekiah finally brings about major reform in Judah.
Hoshea and the fall of Israel: Hoshea the son of Elah began to reign over Israel after killing Pekah the son of Remaliah (see II Kings 15:3) and continued to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord. We have seen Assyria become more and more involved with Israel over the past few chapters, as their nation was growing, and Hoshea was the first king of Israel to become a vassal to Assyria. But Hoshea committed treason by not paying tribute and sending message to Egypt, apparently for help, and the king of Assyria took Hoshea and put him in prison and invaded Samaria. Assyria would then go on to take Israel into captivity, just as the prophets had told the people would happen, for they did not fear the Lord nor walk in His ways. Because of their stubborn disobedience, He brought Assyria against them to exile them, and the king of Assyria put people of other nations in the land of Israel. It is interesting that the people know that they are not serving the Lord of Israel when He sends lions among them because they did not fear Him. When he hears about the problem, the king of Assyria tells his people to send back a priest of Israel that he might teach them how to fear the Lord, and he did. They did not exclusively fear the Lord, however, as they continued to serve their own gods while serving the Lord of Israel (Israel had fallen so far into apostasy that it may not be unreasonable to assume that even the priest that was sent back knew to serve the Lord only without serving other gods in the process). Regardless, the new people that had been brought in from different nations resettled in the land of Israel and built their own cities. They did not fear the Lord only, as He had made a convenient with His children and told them to do (see Exodus 20:4-5). This was God’s judgment on Israel; Israel had fallen.
1. Background: The majority of II Kings 18-20 can also be found in Isaiah 36-39. Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz (a king of Judah who did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord), who began to rule over the kingdom of Judah when he was 25. Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord and he actually brought a revival to Judah while he reigned as king. His reign is one of the ones that we are given the most information about of the minor kings (minor only in terms of amount that is written about them). Hezekiah is said to have followed the Lord fully at the start of his reign, tearing down the alters of worship to false gods and leading Judah back to the Lord. We will Hezekiah’s faith and trust in the Lord as we examine the following chapters. The northern tribes of Israel, on the other hand, had not followed the Lord, and during the reign of Hezekiah, the Assyrians came in and overpowered the Northern tribes of Israel, leading them into captivity just as was predicted in prophecy as God’s punishment for them forsaking Him for other gods. Now the hand of Assyria was pressing in towards the Southern tribes of Judah, which is where the story picks up here in Isaiah.
2. Taunting and intimidation: Sennacherib king of Assyria has taken the fortified cites of Judah and has now sent a messenger with a great army to Jerusalem for the purpose of intimidation and to get them to surrender to the king of Assyria without a fight. The Rabshakeh (the chief of princes or the chief cupbearer, a military leader in Assyria) comes into the city and speaks in the language of the people, calling Hezekiah to come and surrender. He taunts Judah by saying implying that they don’t have even enough man power in their army to fill 2,000 chariots if supplied by the king of Assyria himself. He taunts them for trusting in Egypt to help them, and the leaders of the city ask the Rabshakeh not to speak in the language of the people because they did not want them to hear what he had to say. But the Rabshakeh was speaking in their language on purpose, because he was trying to intimidate them. He then turns to discourage the people from listening to the voice of Hezekiah when he tells the people that the Lord God of Israel will deliver them by recounting that none of the gods of the other nations have been able to save them from the hand of Sennacherib. He openly mocks the Lord God and gives the message that Assyria will overcome His power. He thus tells the people not to follow Hezekiah, but rather come out and surrender, promising them a land like their own when they surrender to Sennacherib. The people didn’t say a word, for they were told by Hezekiah not to say anything to the Rabshakeh. Those who are against us will often taunt us, even implying that our God cannot deliver us from our trials and tribulations, or even from their own hand. They will try to intimidate us into surrendering into their hand, whether literally or figuratively. We must take courage to not give in to their taunt and intimidation, for we serve a God who is omnipotent, always in control, and does not fail. It does not matter what man has to say about Him, for He will prevail, as we will see in the following chapter. Take heart when the evil one comes, for we serve Him who is greater than all.
1. Turning to the Lord in times of trouble: Unlike what the kings of Israel had done when they were met with fierce opposition, Hezekiah goes straight to the Lord when he receives the message from the Rabshakeh, sending word to Isaiah the prophet to inquire of the Lord and plead the case of Judah, telling of how the Rabshakeh had mocked His holy name. This prayer is well received by God and Isaiah sends a message back to Hezekiah saying not to fear, for the Lord would cause the king to return to his land and fall by the sword there. However, when the Rabshakeh returns to Assyria to find the king fighting against Lachish after hearing a rumor (just as the Lord had said) that the king of Lachish, he sends word to Jerusalem once again to intimidate the people, warning them not to be deceived by the word of Hezekiah that the Lord would deliver them. Once again Hezekiah goes straight to the Lord, spreading out the letter that the Rabshakeh had sent mocking the Lord so as to show God what was being done. Hezekiah prays for deliverance, a deliverance that we will examine next. There is a good lesson for us to take to heart in this story. Since Hezekiah was devoted to the Lord, that’s whom he sought when trouble came upon him. We too need to seek protection and deliverance from the Lord when we are in times of trouble rather than trusting in our own power or the power of others. The Lord looks after those who are His. Let us trust in Him.
2. Mock the Lord, and He will answer: Sennacherib and the Rabshakeh had made a fatal error: they had mocked the Lord God Almighty. The pride of the king of Assyria had led him to believe that he was more powerful than the Lord God, just as the gods of the other nations had fallen to him. What Sennacherib didn’t know, however, was that it was the Lord that had enabled him to take the other nations, specifically the house of Israel, and it was only through Him that the king was able to prevail to this point. But now the tide would change, for the Lord had heard the plea of His people and He was rising up in His anger due to the mockery of Assyria. The Lord reminds Assyria that the things that were happening were His plan all along, as they had been written in the days of old, and that no man could stand before God. There is much hope that can be found in the Lord’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer from the point of view of the oppressed, for the Lord was rising to fight for them, and He would indeed prevail. He would turn the king of Assyria back into his own land and there he would die by the hands of his own sons. The angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 men in the camp of Assyria, and they turned back to their own land. Sennacherib would soon die as he was worshiping in the house of his god by the hands of his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer. Their was a lesson to be learned: Mock the Lord, and He will answer.
1. The power of prayer: The story that is recounted in this chapter is one of great interest as it highlights the power of sincere prayer. After being delivered from the hand of Assyria, Hezekiah falls ill, perhaps to the point of death. Indeed, God sends Isaiah to Hezekiah to tell him to get his house in order, for he will surely die. After hearing this message, Hezekiah turns to the wall and prays to the Lord God, weeping bitterly and recounting the good things that he has done in the sight of the Lord. It is important to note that God has already told Hezekiah that he will not recover, but will die. However, God hears the prayer of Hezekiah and sees his tears and decides to add 15 more years to the life of Hezekiah, sending word by Isaiah once again. If this does not display the grand power of righteous prayer, then it is not likely that anything will. God tells Hezekiah that he is going to die, Hezekiah prays, God hears the pray and says “Alright, I will heal you after all.” James talks of the great power of prayer in James 5:16, and Peter also says that the Lord hears the prayer of the righteous (see I Peter 3:12). The ears of the Lord are open to His children, and our prayers and request hold much weight in the sight of God. This can be clearly seen in the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount when he says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (see Matthew 7:7).” There is great power in prayer, and this is something that we all need to remember as we seek to mature in the Spirit of the Lord. Hezekiah writes a psalm of praise to the Lord after recovered that can be found in Isaiah 38:9-20.
2. Pride goes before a fall: After Hezekiah recovers from his sickness, Baladan, king of Babylon, hears of his recovery and sends messengers with a gift for Hezekiah to honor his recovery. However, Hezekiah makes a very poor decision after the Lord grants him recovery. It would seem that Hezekiah garnered some pride in all that he had, that he Lord had blessed him with in his endeavors and conquests, and he wanted to show Babylon how great he was. He received the massagers gladly and took them into his treasure house to show them all the treasures that he had allotted over his reign, in all the kingdom. Pride goes before a fall, however, as Isaiah comes to him after he makes the foolish decision to show all of his treasure to Babylon and prophesies that in the time of his sons, Babylon will come and take Judah captive, taking all of the treasures that Hezekiah had showed to the messengers for the king of Babylon. It would seem that Hezekiah had little remorse, for he tells Isaiah that his word is good, as it implied that he would have peace and security for the rest of his days. This indicates somewhat of a spirit of selfishness. Let us not make the mistake of Hezekiah, flaunting what we have before the eyes of men. It is only asking for trouble, and it leads to both pride and selfishness.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 87-89.
Do not be prideful.