Here in ch 36 we’ve jumped forward to the reign of Hezekiah. One of the BETTER kings. He’s made progress. He’s following God, and listening to Isaiah. He’s destroyed the idol altars and the high places scattered around Judah. Cleaned the place up.
And he’s been making a nuisance of himself to the king of Assyria. Refusing to bow and scrape. Investigating other alliances. Entertaining Babylon. Signing treaties with Egypt.
And so King Sennacherib of Assyria comes down to deal with Hezekiah. He captures every other fortified city in Judah. And then turns his attention to Jerusalem.
The Assyrian army surrounds the city. The only Jews left are those holed up inside the walls. A remnant.
But will they be a FAITHFUL remnant? Who are they going to TRUST?
It’s the big question we’ve seen all the way through. In the face of obstacles and threats, will God’s people look to GOD, or will they look to OTHER SOLUTIONS? To foreign allies, and human agents?
Who really IS on the throne? Who IS the GREAT king? The king of kings? WHO CAN YOU TRUST?
And it’s a bit like that with US. We TALK about trusting God. And most of the time it’s not too hard. As long as we’ve got JOBS, or our HEALTH is good, or there’s MONEY in the bank, and the CAR’S running properly, and the roof’s not leaking, and the kids are doing what they should.
But what about when it’s NOT SO EASY? When things AREN’T going so well. When news ISN’T so good? When friends, or health, or money vanish? When the kids are completely off the rails? What THEN? Is God STILL king? Will you STILL trust him? Or will you look for ANOTHER WAY?
That’s the question. Who will you trust?
We’re going to take a quick run through the STORY. Because it’s a GOOD ONE. Then have a think about SIX LESSONS we can learn from it.
We take up the story at ch 36. Sennacherib’s field commander arrives on the outskirts of Jerusalem, backed up by a large army. Every other major town in Judah’s already fallen. And he’s feeling pretty cocky.
And three of Hezekiah’s advisors head outside the city to hear his demands. Have a look at how he begins. There in v4.
“’This is what the GREAT king, the king of Assyria, says: ON WHAT ARE YOU BASING THIS CONFIDENCE OF YOURS?
Who’s on the throne? Who’s the GREAT king? It’s not Hezekiah, it’s not the Pharaoh of Egypt, and it’s not the God of Israel.
And he goes on to undermine EACH of those three foundations. Passing on the message of King Sennacherib himself. V6. Don’t look to EGYPT. Lean on them, and you’ll do yourself an injury.
And don’t base your confidence on YOUR God either. V7. Hezekiah’s pulled down all the altars around the place that people worshipped at. God’s not going to be interested in helping you after THAT.
And don’t think YOUR king’s worth trusting either. V8. There’s nothing left of HIS army. Sennacherib says, I’ll shout you 2000 horses – if you can find riders. I’ll give you a head start, he says. Make it interesting.
And then he comes in with what’s the knockout blow in v10.
10 Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? THE LORD HIMSELF TOLD ME to march against this country and destroy it.’”
Wow! It’s hard to get OUR heads around it. But it would have shaken THE JEWISH LEADERS to their core. How could God be behind the attack by ASSYRIA? Could it really be possible? How could their wicked king be God’s instrument? He’s even GUIDING him with a message!
But one of the lessons we’ll learn is that God’s behind EVERYTHING that happens. There’s NOTHING he doesn’t PLAN and BRING ABOUT.
We don’t always know WHY. But at least in THIS case we DO know why. Back in ch10 God TOLD us why. Ch 10 v5.
5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me,
God’s using Assyria, even though they’re wicked, to punish Israel for THEIR wickedness.
And when the Jewish leaders hear THAT they ask the Assyrian commander to keep his voice down a bit. To speak in Aramaic. So that all the people listening in from inside the city won’t panic.
Which of course is like a red rag to a bull. Instead, the commander RAISES his voice, keeps speaking in HEBREW, and ADDRESSES the people on the walls. V13. “Don’t trust Hezekiah. Don’t trust your GOD. Trust the GREAT king. The king of Assyria.”
And then he offers them a deal. You don’t have to starve like animals inside the city. Come out, you’ll go back to your homes again. For a while, before we take you off to Assyria. But even there, there’s plenty to eat.
But as he warms up, it’s here the commander makes his biggest mistake. V18 he says, Don’t trust Hezekiah when he says the LORD will deliver us. No other gods have ever been able to stand against us. V20.
HOW THEN CAN THE LORD DELIVER JERUSALEM FROM MY HAND?”
It’s a taunt Hezekiah sees as A DIRECT INSULT AGAINST GOD HIMSELF. Into ch 37 he sends a message to Isaiah. V4.
4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear 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
But it’s not just the commander who thinks that God can’t stop them. Sennacherib thinks so too. Here’s the letter he sends to King Hezekiah. Ch 37 v10. He’s heading off to fight another battle, but he doesn’t want Hezekiah to think that’s the end of it.
Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar?
And YOUR god’s no different!
And when Hezekiah receives the letter in v14, he takes it as evidence, and goes to the temple to pray. He lays it out before God, and presents his case. It’s a WONDERFUL prayer. It begins and ends with God. It shows that God is GREAT king, not Sennacherib. HE is the one who controls world affairs, not humans. V16.
16 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, YOU ALONE are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.
And he points to the words in the letter. Open your eyes and see all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the LIVING God.
Yes, he goes on, it’s TRUE, Assyria has conquered every other nation. But I’m going to TRUST YOU. V20.
20 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”
And that’s the centre of this section. The turning point. The secret weapon.
20 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”
And God HEARS his prayer. V21. BECAUSE YOU’VE PRAYED, this is the word I’ve spoken against him. A word of judgment on Sennacherib. V23. You’ve blasphemed against me. V24 Heaped insults on me.
You brag about how your success is all about YOU. But here’s the reality. V26.
26 “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone.
You thought it was all YOUR strength, and YOUR vision, and YOUR leadership.
And that sort of rebellious attitude means JUDGMENT. Down in v29.
29 Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.
And just like God promised, it all comes to pass. The last couple of paragraphs of ch 37 describe a dreadful plague that sweeps through the Assyrian army killing 185,000.
And then Sennacherib himself, back in his home city, is killed by his own sons while he prays in HIS temple to HIS God. Which really IS ironic.
- Hezekiah prays in HIS temple to the TRUE God. The King of kings. Who answers his prayer.
- Sennacherib prays in HIS temple to the FALSE God. And he’s murdered by his own family.
And the Jews are saved.
That’s the story in a nutshell.
What I want to do now is think about some lessons we can learn from the story.
- God knows everything (37:28)
And the first one is pretty obvious. God knows everything. No one is so important, or so insignificant that God misses them.
There’s nowhere you can go that God can’t see you. On this planet, or any other for that matter.
He sees everything you do in secret, he knows every thought.
Here’s what he said to King Sennacherib, who though he was better than God. Ch 37:28.
28 “But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me.
You might get away with it for A WHILE. But you won’t get away with it FOREVER.
Which is both comforting AND scary. Comforting for those of us suffering unjustly. And scary for those of us doing what we SHOULDN’T.
- God plans, and brings to pass, everything (37:26)
Lesson 2. Not only does God SEE everything, but he plans, and brings everything to pass.
Listen carefully. Everything. Not just SOME things. Not just GOOD things, or BIG things. Not just MIRACULOUS things. EVERYTHING.
Everything that HAPPENS is planned by God, and carried out by his will.
We read it before, but just look at these extraordinary words again. Putting Sennacherib in his place. Talking about his military victories. Ch 37:26.
26 “Have you not heard? LONG AGO I ORDAINED IT. IN DAYS OF OLD I PLANNED IT; NOW I HAVE BROUGHT IT TO PASS/, that YOU have turned fortified cities into piles of stone.
Some people think God knows the future, but doesn’t control it. A heavenly fortune teller. Far-seeing, but impotent to change it.
Other people think God plans ONE thing, but then people come along, and do something DIFFERENT. And so God has to CHANGE his plans. And start working on PLAN B.
But neither of those is how the Bible describes it. He PLANS it, and then he PUTS THOSE PLANS INTO ACTION.
The best example was the death of Christ. A terrible tragedy. A great injustice. The result of men’s evil But God planned it from the beginning of time. The incredible message of the Bible is that the greatest act of rebellion and wickedness/ resulted in the greatest act of love and righteousness and salvation and GOOD.
Acts 4:27-28. The Apostle Peter says
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 THEY DID WHAT YOUR POWER AND WILL HAD DECIDED BEFOREHAND SHOULD HAPPEN.
God PLANS and CAUSES EVERYTHING.
And don’t think God’s only interested in the BIG things. Or the MIRACULOUS things. God is just as much king over the little things, and the everyday things as he is over the MIRACULOUS.
God rescues Jerusalem. Sends a plague that kills 185,000. That’s BIG. But he BEGAN the rescue in a very SMALL way. Ch 37:7 says that God PUT A SPIRIT in Sennacherib so that when he heard a certain report, he WORRIED about it, and left. A mild feeling of unease. Nothing miraculous about THAT. In fact, you may not even be aware that God’s DOING it.
And then, in ch 38 that we DIDN’T read, Hezekiah’s sick and about to DIE. And he prays that God would HEAL him. God says he WILL, and then gives him a SIGN that he’ll do it. V7-8. He MOVES THE SHADOW BACKWARD. Turns the earth in the opposite direction. That’s BIG.
That’s even before he HEALS. So you might think the HEALING is going to be pretty big TOO. But he doesn’t do it in a MIRACULOUS way AT ALL. Look down to v21. Isaiah prepares a poultice of figs. A herbal heat pack that gets put on the boil. And Hezekiah gets better.
Is that God HEALING? Yes. He’s just as much God of the soothing poultice as he is of the moving shadow.
Just because God hasn’t healed you of cancer, or converted you from being a drug addict. Doesn’t mean he’s not working out his plans in your life everyday.
Lesson 2: God plans everything, and brings everything to pass.
- Prayer changes things (37:21; 38:5)
Lesson 3. Prayer changes things. Just in case you’re thinking from lesson number two that I’m saying the world is set up like a big computer program that just runs itself along. That everything is FATE. And that we’re all just robots doing what we’ve been programmed to do. Then a lesson that’s just as true from these chapters is that PRAYER CHANGES THINGS.
In ch 37 Hezekiah prays that God would deliver his people. And in v21, God says this.
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the LORD has spoken against him:
And then he goes on to talk about how he’ll destroy Assyria.
And then in ch 38 Hezekiah prays AGAIN. This time for something PERSONAL. He’s sick. And God warns him that he’s going to die. And he WON’T recover.
And yet when Hezekiah PRAYS, the outcome CHANGES. See it there in v4?
‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.
It’s what God wanted him to do all along. That’s why he sent the warning. God WANTS us to PRAY. So that he can work out his good purposes through OUR PRAYING.
I don’t know how to do it. But we’ve somehow got to put lessons 2 and 3 together. God plans and brings everything to pass. AND prayer changes things.
The next three lessons I’ve grouped under the heading of “Why do bad things happen?”
It’s a question I seem to get asked quite a lot. Whether it’s from high school kids thinking they’re being clever. Or from people who are really SUFFERING under a load they almost can’t BEAR. And it just isn’t FAIR. And the question is much more than an academic exercise.
And I certainly don’t have a COMPLETE answer. But it seems like these three lessons seem to give us some help.
God works for the honour of his name (37:4, 6, 17, 32, 35)
Lesson number 4. God works for the honour of his name.
The Assyrians were ridiculing God. And so God acts for the sake of his NAME.
Look at ch 37 v35. Hezekiah’s reminding God that the Assyrians are insulting him. And so God responds. V35.
35 “I will defend this city and save it, FOR MY SAKE and for the sake of David my servant!”
God defending his honour. Upholding his good name. Showing that he’s JUST and POWERFUL.
And one way of thinking about bad things happening is to see that God is acting for the sake of his NAME. Either in judgment.
Or perhaps sometimes he works things in the lives of his followers that involve SUFFERING. Not because he’s CRUEL. But so that other people can look at how they cope, and can give glory to God. And so he’s HONOURED.
Notice how it worked that way with Hezekiah’s sickness. Ch 38 v18. After he’s been healed, he tells everyone about how good God has been.
18 For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. 19 The living, the living—they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness. 20 The LORD will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the LORD.
It’s amazing how often I hear stories about how people have become Christians as a result of a tragedy either in THEIR life, or the life of a Christian they know. And it’s the way that Christian has dealt with it / that’s started them thinking about God.
Do you ever pray when bad things are happening/ that God would work for the honour of his name? That people would praise him as they look at how you cope with it all? I must admit, my prayers are often more self-centred.
That’s lesson 4. God works for the honour of his name.
- God wants to discipline, not destroy (37:31-32)
Lesson number 5 is that when bad things happen to God’s people, it’s because he wants to discipline, not destroy. We’ve seen through Isaiah the idea of the remnant. The group of faithful people God’s going to protect through all of this.
They’ll be SHAKEN, but God will PRESERVE them. Stronger, and more faithful. Ch 37 v31.
31 Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. 32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Which is the way it always works for God’s people when tough times happen. The writer to the Hebrews puts it more clearly in the NT. Heb 12:7. God is our heavenly father who DISICPLINES us because he LOVES us. To make us more like Jesus.
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? … 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
When bad things are happening. Pray by all means that God would REMOVE them. But also pray that God would be TEACHING you, and DISCIPLINING you. Producing a harvest of righteousness in you. That’s what he wants MORE than your comfort.
That’s lesson five. God wants to discipline, not destroy his people.
- God works all things for good – the benefit of looking back – (38:17)
Finally, God works all things for GOOD for his people. Even BAD things.
Hezekiah learned that lesson. Ch 38.17. Here’s what he said after God healed him.
You restored me to health and let me live. 17 SURELY IT WAS FOR MY BENEFIT THAT I SUFFERED SUCH ANGUISH. (Here’s the lessons he learned) In your LOVE you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my SINS behind your back. 18 For the GRAVE cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise;
If it wasn’t for the sickness, Hezekiah wouldn’t have this new perspective on life and sin and death and praising God. Surely it was for my BENEFIT that I suffered such anguish.
And it was a lesson the Apostle Paul learned too. He went through much worse than Hezekiah ever did. The list of the things he suffered for the sake of Jesus is enough to make you faint. But here’s what he learned about how God works in his world. Well-known words, and I’ll finish with them. Rom 8:28-32
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?