2 Kings 18:1-7/Isaiah 36-37:7
The two books of Kings give long accounts of all the kings of Israel and Judah, putting them either into the good king or bad king category. The good kings walked with God and followed God’s commands. The bad kings did not. Hezekiah was a good king. I am going to tell you the story of stand off between the king of little Judah, Hezekiah, and the king of mighty Assyria, Sennacharib, using the words of a famous Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Eugene Peterson. In The Message paraphrase, you will hear several unfamiliar names or titles that you will want to keep track of. The main characters are King Sennacharib’s representative, who has a Hebrew title: the Rabshekah. No one is exactly sure what the title means, but it is often translated “field commander”, and sometimes, chief advisor. The Rabshekah was clearly a representative who had the authority to speak for the king. Then you have King Hezekiah and his three representatives, his palace steward (he was in charge of what went on in the king’s palace), his secretary and his official historian. And finally you have the prophet Isaiah.
Read Isaiah 36:1-37:4 from THE MESSAGE.
It is like the serpent in the garden of Eden, isn’t it? Remember the serpent’s shrewd plan of attack… “Don’t listen to God—he is lying to you about the tree and its fruit.” He was purposefully sowing doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve, pulling them away from their complete trust in their creator.
The Rabshekah from Assyria is purposefully sowing doubt in the minds of the palace steward, the secretary and the official historian from Judah. “Don’t listen to Hezekiah’s lies!” He actually repeats that exclamation three times! He goes on… “Hezekiah can’t save you. Don’t believe him when he assures you that the city will not fall to the king of Assyria. No god has ever saved any nation from the power of our Assyrian armies—what makes you think your god could save Jerusalem if our king wants to take control of it? We have got you surrounded. You are in our vice grips.” While the palace steward, the secretary, and the official historian are standing there dumbfounded, the Rabshekah goes on… “Oh, but we have a better offer for you.” (Now he is starting to sound like a car salesman. “Just come look at this model—it is on sale just this weekend. If you buy it today”…. ) “If you surrender to our armies without a fight, we will be sure that you will have all the land and water that you need, and then some. It will go well for Judah if you surrender now.” Must have been an enticing promise in a desert land of mostly rock and dirt. It is enough to make you wonder… the three representatives of King Hezekiah must have been asking themselves, so who should we believe? Our King Hezekiah, who has been a fine king up until now, we have no reason to distrust his judgment. Or should we believe the King of Assyria who is powerful and relentless in his takeover of nation after nation? Maybe life under Sennacharib would not be so bad after all– he is guaranteeing plenty of wide open land and water for all.
When in doubt, consult the man of God. And all of a sudden the leaders of King Hezekiah’s government are referring to the God of Israel, to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to the God of Moses, to their God, as “your God, Isaiah”. How quick we are to turn our backs, to lose faith, to forget what God has done in the past. Elder Malachi Mbenga shared a parable with us at our session meeting this past Wednesday:
A mother braved the flames engulfing her home in order to rescue her only son who was in his room asleep. In the process she was severely burned. She survived, however, and raised her son. He became quite well respected in the community, hob knobbing with the rich and powerful people of society. When he threw a party in his home to celebrate a promotion he had received, he invited all the muckety mucks that he could. While they were celebrating, eating and drinking, a knock came at the door. It was an uninvited guest. The doorman went to the host of the party and asked him to come explain again that this party was only for invited guests. He came to the door and saw his mother. She smiled and said, “I just wanted to come and congratulate you on your success. I would like to celebrate with you.” The son said to his mother: “Oh, mother, I can not have you come in to the celebration. There are a lot of rich and powerful people from our community here. You are so scarred and disfigured, mother. You would not fit in, and I would be ashamed to introduce you to my friends.”
How often does that happen in our experience? We say we love God and Jesus. But when push comes to shove, do we include God in the equation? Or does our faith just go sailing out the window? Do we dismiss any power that God has demonstrated in the past?
Hezekiah was a good king. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just like King David. He held fast to the Lord, he did not depart from him. Until now. Even Hezekiah and his staff did not own their faith in God in front of such a looming threat to their power, to the existence of Judah, to the city of Jerusalem itself, and even to their very lives. They run to the holy man. Help! Isaiah, what is your God going to do here? Pray for us, Isaiah, we are God less at the moment. We are surrounded and have no way out of this.
Who do you go to when you feel like you are surrounded on all sides by powerful forces that won’t let up? Is there a saint, a holy one, who you can turn to for help, advice, guidance and who will pray with and for you? Many of us have a parent, a teacher, or some other neighbor who we tend to turn to. I know that some of you cry out to your pastor: “Help! My family or my friend or I need you to pray. And please share my need with others who can pray as well.” On the other hand, I imagine that some of you prefer to go directly to God on your own, like the words to one verse of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”:
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
You may prefer not to unload your problems on another person, keeping your privacy, doing the best you can with God’s help.
One way that I find helps when I feel surrounded is to be in prayer with others. That is why I am so excited about our new commitment to pray with our brothers and sisters in Sagua la Grande, Cuba. On Wednesday nights we have agreed to pray at the same time—9 pm. Here we pray via conference call from 9 to 9:20. There they gather at the church for their weekly Bible study, and at the end of their time together, they will pray for concerns of theirs and any concerns of ours which we share with them on Monday or Tuesday. If you have a prayer request that you would like offered to God in English and in Spanish, in two different nations, in two different cultures, please share that request with our clerk, Suzanne Jewell, who will email it to Pastor Marielys Diaz. Marielys will communicate with Suzanne as well, sharing specific requests on their end. For our first Wednesday, their requests were for an elderly church member, Ofelia, who Nzinga and I visited in her home on our trip to Sagua. Ofelia’s home is basically falling down around her and her son. They had to move the bed from the front bedroom to the rear of the house because the roof was falling in! Ofelia recently fell and broke her hip. She is healing at home and can no longer get to church, so she was extremely pleased that we came to visit and to pray with her. We took her a prayer shawl knitted by one of our members, and she was absolutely thrilled. Please lift Ofelia in your prayers. The second request for this past Wednesday was for Marena, the 9 year old daughter of the pastor who had surgery on both of her big toes due to a very long term infection that was not going away. She tends to be a whiner, so prayers for her mom are in order as well!
We never finished the end of the story—what did the prophet Isaiah say to the king’s staff who came to plead for help from Isaiah’s God? He gave them a message from God: “Do not be afraid because of the words you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. I will take care of him and remove him as a threat.” You can read at the end of Isaiah 37 that King Sennacherib did meet an early death, at the hands of his own sons. Through Isaiah, God promises to take care of Judah even in the face of a daunting, powerful enemy. God’s promise reminds me of the words of Jesus at the end of the gospel of Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Good words to remember when we feel surrounded. Yes, indeed.