Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Have you ever found yourself in a truly difficult situation, one that brought great stress, one that brought with it confusion and grief as you are faced with more questions than answers? Certainly God has given us life, and many blessings, most of which we probably take for granted. However, the choices that we make in life have a dramatic impact on its circumstances. Likewise, the choices that others make often affect us in significant ways. Consequently, most of the circumstances of our lives are the results of choices that we and others have made, and sometimes the consequences of those choices are seemingly devastating. Sometimes the more difficult circumstances of life become burdensome, holding us down, and dragging us back like some great weight that is simply too heavy to bear. There are very few people who are spared the experiences that come with difficult circumstances, though our response to those circumstances is more a function of our attitude than the circumstances themselves.
I once encountered a grieving mother who had recently lost her 3-year-old daughter when the child ran into a street and was struck by a drunk driver. Still reeling from the agony of this recent loss, and as a professing Christian, she shouted at me, "Why would YOUR God kill my child?" There is no proper way to fully understand the hurt and grief that this mother experienced, and my first thoughts were of my inadequacy to even start to deal with this situation. However, after a few milliseconds of well-answered prayer, I was able to discuss the situation with her and, hopefully, leave her with some good counsel and some small encouragement.
Once I thought of buying T-shirts for our entire family simply stating, "We Survived 1992." This was a time of tremendous upheaval in our own family, starting with the loss of my job to downsizing at the university, the resulting forced sale of our home and the move to another job that was 750 miles from our extended family. We were torn from our church family in a time of strife in the fellowship, itself a stressor that was greater than the job loss. At the same time, while attempting to sell our house, we were attacked by the business next door in their attempt to grab land based upon their obsolete and erroneous plat, blocking road access to our own property, potentially blocking our sale, causing us to hire a lawyer and go to court. To cap off the stressors, my wife's father died unexpectedly, suddenly leaving this large farm family without its beloved patriarch. What a year.
Sometimes we carry great burdens. Single mothers usually must work outside the home, balancing the workload requirements of both the employer and the family, trying to completely fill the requirements of both when there is simply not enough time or resources to do so, and often without any assistance from others. Some are burdened by employment that creates stress in the home. Some are burdened by grievous illness that makes it difficult to simply get through a day. There are many who are victims of drug and alcohol abuse, or domestic violence. Many live in a state of poverty and destitution in nations that are ravaged by governments that seek power and despise their own people. Many are subjected to prejudice and hatred for their religious or ethnic status.
When we look at the circumstances that bring about the burdens that we carry in this life virtually all of these, with the exception of many health issues, find their roots in the choices we make. The death of the child was directly related to the choice of an individual to become drunk and then drive an automobile in his inebriated state, while the mother also made a set of choices that allowed the 3-year-old to be only momentarily unsupervised. It was the combination of these choices that brought about the circumstances that resulted in the child's death.
We did not fully recover from the losses and stress of 1992 for many years. Yet, we can also see how most of these circumstances were the product of choices. The heartbreaking burden of church conflict was engendered by individuals struggling for control over others. The job loss was the choice of a new administrator with a personal agenda. The land grab by the business next door was a mean-spirited choice by a small group of individuals who had no consideration for their neighbors.
The lives of most people seem to be characterized by burdens that are the product of their own making. There is common thread that is woven through choices that cause grief, hurt and destruction, a thread that characterizes literally all loss and suffering: sin. There is no intent here to argue that all physical suffering is caused by sin, since it is clear in the teachings of Jesus and within any reliable biblical context that sickness is not an intrinsic punishment for sin. God did not plan on mankind to live on this earth forever, so death is sure, as is the common suffering that accompanies it. Still much sickness and physical suffering is caused directly by sinful choices when they involve activities that are clearly destructive including abuses that may involve substance, physical, psychological, ethical, or sexual abuse as well as the deliberate inflicting of injury on others.
In choosing us as His children, God gave us a better plan. An example of His plan is found in the covenant that God made with the tribe of Israel at Mount Sinai: God would forever provide both the land and the protection to remain in it as long as the people of the covenant placed their faith and trust in Him. Recorded in the books of Exodus, Kings and Chronicles are numerous examples of God's miraculous protection as He settled Israel in the areas around the Jordan River. However, it did not take long before the people forgot the covenant and turned away from faith in God to embrace the sinful culture of their secular and pagan neighbors. The people of God wanted to be more like the people of the world. They wanted a nation and a kingdom that was organized like the other nations. They desired to set up allegiances with their powerful neighbors rather than rely on God for their protection. When Samuel anointed Saul, the first King of Israel, he also prophesied that the Israelite kings would lead the people away from God, into bondage, and to their ultimate destruction. David followed Saul, and his son Solomon enslaved the Jews in his obsession to rebuild the nation. Solomon's son Rehoboam vowed to increase the bondage of the people, resulting in the split of the nation into a southern kingdom of Judah, (the tribe of Rehoboam), and the northern breakaway tribes of Israel.
From this point, the state of the two kingdoms went steadily downward. The northern nation of Israel never raised up a king who would lead the people to the Lord, but rather anointed a succession of ungodly kings who led the nation into pagan religious practices and engaged in the intrigue that existed between warring nations. In turning away from God, they broke the covenant at Sinai, removing themselves from God's hand of protection as Israel attempted to depend upon alliances with other kingdoms as their security. Israel's alliance with Damascus proved fruitless when that kingdom was overrun by Assyria in its drive for the conquest of other nations. Ten years later Assyria would thoroughly destroy Israel, taking its people captive and repopulating the land with peoples of other lands. The northern kingdom of Israel, as a nation, was never heard from again.
The southern nation of Judah remained after the destruction of Israel, in part because of God's protection over them that was provided to the remnant of faithful that remained there. However, that remnant had limited influence in the government and many of its kings, like those of Israel, led the nation away from God. King Hezekiah was a godly king who attempted to bring the nation back to God, but was faced with many obstacles that made his task nearly impossible.
Judah's situation was every bit as precarious as that of the northern nation of Israel in its latter years. Most of its kings had also led the nation away from God, but occasionally Judah would raise up a king who was faithful. As we approach the 37th chapter of the prophesy of Isaiah, the writer records events that took place under the reign of Hezekiah, one of the kings who sought to turn the nation back to God. However, Hezekiah was faced with a culture that made the task difficult. He was able to restore worship in the Jerusalem temple, but did not tear down the pagan altars on the mountaintops. Hence he did not banish pagan worship from the land. Hezekiah was not only faced with the dilemma of religious worship, but Assyria now had its sights on the conquest of Judea and had begun to make its move to put down Judea and the other nations that had rebelled against their domination by Assyria and its new king, Sennacherib (Se-NACK-a-reeb), son of Sargon II.
Sennacherib was himself quite a historian. He recorded detailed accounts of his conquests, naming the cities he destroyed and even the military tactics used his attacks. Though filled with his ego-centric viewpoint, these documents serve to give us some insight into the context of Hezekiah's dilemma, and their agreement with biblical accounts is encouraging. Sennacherib had advanced his army towards Jerusalem and was about to put the city to siege. He had just laid siege to and destroyed Lachish (la-KEESH), a city south of Jerusalem that was second only to Jerusalem as a fortress, and without an army or a foreign ally, Jerusalem's situation was grave. Sennacherib was currently stationed at Lachish.
And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.
Prior to the attack, Sennacherib sent his cup-bearer (entitled, "Rabshakeh"1 (RAB-shu-keh)) to Jerusalem with a plea to surrender. The Rabshakeh stated two points that are germane to our study: (1) Jerusalem would be destroyed if they do not surrender, and (2) Israel's God was using Assyria to punish the nation for its apostasy. The first point was one that Hezekiah could deal with. However, the second point brought Hezekiah to the point of mourning with sackcloth and ashes, and led him to go to the Jerusalem temple to seek the Lord.
How often do we wait until our situation is dire before we seek the Lord? How often do make choices for ourselves without inquiring of the Lord, and by so doing find ourselves seeking for an extraction from circumstances of our own making? It seems it is only when we cannot handle the situation ourselves that we finally go to the Lord with a plea for help. God's plan is that we place our faith and trust in Him continually, seeking His will in all of our decisions so that we do not get ourselves into such situations. This is where we find Israel: Assyria is poised to attack a defenseless Jerusalem and its King, Hezekiah is seeking the help of the Lord.
2 Kings 18:13-16. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the kingís house. 16At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
In his surrender to Sennacherib, Hezekiah asked what Assyria would demand from him to deflect an attack. Sennacherib demanded from Hezekiah a deliberate return to his status as a vassal king over a conquered nation, and as an evidence of the dominance held by Assyria, demanded a huge tribute as a penalty for the rebellion of Judah and the surrounding tribes and nations that Hezekiah had led. Hezekiah was forced to pay the tribute from the temple treasures, a task that must have broken Hezekiah's heart.
Even when we turn to God in repentance, we may still find ourselves responsible for the consequences of our poor choices. We may suffer losses of health, losses of property, and losses of relationships with others. Sometimes these are losses that can never be regained. The loss for Hezekiah was grievous, as it would be he who would ransack the temple for Assyria of its items of value, items that Jerusalem's armies and its people had defended for years. These were goods that Hezekiah understood to be holy, belonging go God Himself. Consequently, Hezekiah's suffering was not only prompted by the threat of the Assyrian army, but also by the consequence that the threat had evoked. One can only imagine the burden that Hezekiah experienced when it was he who was robbing the temple under the authority of this Assyrian king. Hezekiah was so moved by this event that he called upon his prophet, Isaiah, for counsel.
1(We may recall that 70 years later Nehemiah became the cup-bearer under King Cyrus, and this Rabshakeh led the remnant of Judah back to Jerusalem.)
And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. 4It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left. 5So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
When Hezekiah observed his situation he came to realize that the Rabshakeh could have been correct. He describes the current days as ones of trouble, rebuke, and blasphemy. The trouble has come upon them as a result of their own apostasy, their own refusal to fully rely on God as their Provider and Savior, as they placed their trust instead upon their own ego-centric kings and in their alliances with other nations. They are now experiencing the rebuke of the Lord as their sin of apostasy has been exposed by the voice of a pagan neighbor, one to them who is a blasphemer. To hear such a rebuke from such a pagan, knowing that the content of the rebuke is true, makes for quite a wake-up call.
Often we experience such a rebuke when we allow things in our lives to get out of control, an allowance that comes from our self-dependence and our bent on prideful and self-centered choices. Sometimes it takes someone from outside of our comfort zone to expose the extent of our own apostasy, and by so doing cause us the embarrassment of seeing our sin exposed even to those outside that zone.
It is at times like these, when we find no other recourse, that we finally enter the house of God (the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit that resides in the heart of every Christian) and come to God in prayer. Recognizing Isaiah as the Lord's prophet in Jerusalem, Hezekiah sent his leadership in a clear state of humility, to Isaiah requesting that he pray for the remnant of Judah that still remains.
And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
It had been a very long time in Israel since its king came before the Lord in true repentance. This was a king that truly desired to bring Judah back to God, though he had been frustrated in his attempts to do so. Hezekiah did not know what to pray, nor what to pray for. He simply did what he could do to express his remorse and repentance for the situation that he and his predecessors had brought to Judah. Note that God did not rebuke Hezekiah, for the repentance in this king's heart was real and sincere. God did not require Hezekiah to perform some great work of faith in order to validate his sincerity, since God knows that Hezekiah's faith is sincere. Our human culture seeks to exact punishment for any act of wrong-doing, but God is characterized by His love and His grace, a grace that is given to all who place their faith and trust in Him. When we turn from our self-centered spirit and humbly come to him in true repentance (truly choosing to turn back to Him), God does not respond with rebuke and punishment, but rather with a demonstration of His love and His grace. Also, God is always true to his promise to take care of those who place their faith and trust in Him.
We do not have a record of the event through which Isaiah heard the word of the Lord, if there even was one. Isaiah, knowing God's heart, also was confident in his knowledge of God's will and purpose, and understanding God's response, he communicated this to Hezekiah's messengers: God accepts repentance without condition. God offers his gift of grace to all who turn to Him in Spirit and in truth. As a result of Hezekiah's repentance, God could fulfill His promise made at Mount Sinai when Hezekiah restored the covenant. As a testimony to the restored covenant, the people of Judah would see a miracle. God promised to deliver Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib, bringing destruction down on the Assyrian army, resulting in their retreat back to Assyria. Furthermore, Sennacherib would return home only to find his own death at the hands of Assyrians.
God would deliver Jerusalem. When Sennacherib would renew his threats against Judah, Hezekiah had a foundation of trust in God that would now deliver him from the desperate fear that he had experienced prior to Isaiah's prophesy. He also had confidence in the source of the strength of Israel: YAHWEH, the LORD, God.
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. 9And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? 12Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Telassar? 13Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?
Just as Israel had made a fruitless alliance with Damascus, Judah had sought to form a similar alliance with Egypt. Though, like Damascus, Egypt was not able to come to the aid of Judah, it was still not entirely omitted from the intrigue of the day. When Sennacherib had conquered Lachish, he turned to Libnah, a city closer to Jerusalem and not as fortified as Lachish. This was more of a mopping-up operation to the formidable Assyrian army. It was at this point that the king of Egypt was rumored to be finally coming to Jerusalem's defense, and Sennacherib had no interest in the delivery of any good news to Hezekiah when he is about to begin the siege. Instead of sending the Rabshakeh back with another speech, he wrote one himself, one to be delivered directly by messengers to Hezekiah, a letter that was written in his own words. This was a message meant to discourage the seemingly doomed king. The message was meant to cause Hezekiah to doubt the prophesy of Isaiah, and by so doing to doubt God's intent to deliver Jerusalem. The king of Assyria then goes on to list many of the pagan cities that were not protected by their gods, falling without exception to Sennacherib's advance. Jerusalem, like these, would also fall without the protection from the LORD that Hezekiah has suddenly embraced. As Hezekiah is being encouraged by the Lord through Isaiah, Sennacherib reminds Hezekiah that the kings of all these pagan cities are dead, and he is next.
When faced with a severe burden, how often do we hear the same messages, messages that are intended on inflaming our doubts? Often the voice of Sennacherib comes from our own heart rather than from that of a critic. We may recall the three friends of Job who counseled him to reject God, and his own wife who counseled him to "curse God and die." In our set of choices we also select those whose counsel we will openly receive, and sometimes those choices may be no more wise than the ones that placed us into a difficult situation in the first place. When we find ourselves burdened, and believe in our heart that God will be faithful to deliver us, we will still often be open to doubts, open to the discouraging words of others who do not share our newly sensitized faith and trust in God. This leaves us with a choice: to follow the Lord who we know is truth, or to follow our doubting heart and our doubting counsel who we know to be a lie.
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.
No doubt, Hezekiah remembered the events of Israeli history, events that had described God's miraculous intervention to save His people in peril. The peril could be no greater for Jerusalem, so upon receiving the letter from Hezekiah instead of seeking an another alliance, instead of gathering together a conscripted army, instead of rattling his sabers in rebellion, Hezekiah took the letter into the temple, rolled it out on a low table (presumably meant as an altar), bringing it to the Lord as a matter of prayer. Why was this type of behavior not characteristic of Israel and Judah's kings? Why did it take the imminent demise of the city to finally bring Hezekiah to the point of bring his burdens to the Lord?
These are easy questions to pose, but our answers may smack of some hypocrisy when we ourselves tend to withhold our burdens from God's hand. The Apostle Peter was not unfamiliar with burdens, having experienced the lowest period of his life during the passion of Christ, yet Peter writes, "Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Somehow our culture teaches us that God is there to help us when we are overpowered by our burdens, so we do not bring them to the Lord until we find them overpowering. Peter understood that we can bring all of our burdens to the Lord, and the word "all" is quite inclusive. We can, and should, bring the small burdens to God when they are still small, and give control of their management to God, seeking His will in the resolution of the conflict that those burdens bring. How did Hezekiah give this burden to God? We can see evidence of the king's methodology in his sincere prayer.
And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying, 16O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.
Hezekiah started his prayer with an humble recognition of the nature of God. We minimize God in our lives when we fail to yield our lives to Him, professing faith in God, but living by faith in our own works. When we truly recognize the awesome character of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who created the universe, the God who came down to mankind to reveal His purpose and plan, we can only be humbled. A good start to the process of "burden relief" is to clearly know and accept the character of our God who can and will come to our aid and serve as the agent of our deliverance. Upon embracing this immense character of God, we can express our true humility by simply opening up the recesses of our heart and pray with this sincere confession, a confession of acknowledgement and praise.
Hezekiah first refers to God as the "LORD of hosts, the God of Israel". Both of these are references to the names used of God to refer to His covenant relationship with man. God is LORD, YAHWEH, the One God ("thou alone"), the provider and sustainer of life who has entered into a relationship with His creation through His covenant with Abraham, and with Israel at Mount Sinai. This is the same God to whom we pray. God has not changed.
Hezekiah's reference of the cherubim may be instructive. Isaiah is the only biblical writer to refer specifically to the creatures of heavenly worship referred to as cherubim, who had six wings: two for the covering of their eyes (representing their acknowledgement of God's unseeable glory), two for the covering of their feet (representing their humility), and two for flight. It is not until a faithful believer appropriates a true appreciation for the glory of God, and it is not until a true believer submits to God in humility, is the believer in a condition to truly fly, to truly serve God.
How often do we fly with all six wings, thinking that we can fly further, longer, and straighter without acknowledging God? By holding back that which is meant to worship God, we fly without His power. The cherubim serve as a metaphor, empowered to fully worship and serve God only after they have given to him a true sacrifice, the control of their own flight.
Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.
Hezekiah then turned directly to the issue on his heart. He did not "beat around the bush" or hide his concerns behind a wall of rationalizations. As a sinful people none of us deserve the ear of God. When we come before God in true humility we will clearly recognize that we have no power to make God do what we want Him to do, but instead God will always perform His own will. The desire on Hezekiah's heart is the salvation of Judah from the hands of this brutal Assyrian king, so Hezekiah makes his desire clear as he notes the reproach of all that which is Godly that is represented in Sennacherib's attacks.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, 19And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of menís hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Hezekiah also opens up his heart to reveal his real fear: the destruction of the remnant of Judah. Assyria has laid waste to every nation it has attacked, and with no army to defend itself, there is no logical way that Judah can oppose its own inevitable demise. Hezekiah also notes the ineffectuality of pagan gods to protect their people, recognizing that they are not gods at all. He recognizes that God Jehovah is the only true God and unlike those made by the hands of Man, God can deliver the city from Assyria. Hezekiah's faith in God is so great that he has no doubt that God can deliver Judah using any method He would choose.
Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.
Hezekiah is asking for a miracle not unlike those experienced by a more faithful Israel of the past. He is also asking for a miracle that will show all of the nations that God is not a fabrication of wood or stone, but rather the true, living creator of the universe. Such a miracle would not only deliver Hezekiah from the burden he faces, but also would serve to glorify God. The witness of such a miracle could turn many people to God in faith, including those in Judea who still insist on worshipping the metal, wood, and stone idols of this pagan and secular world. Rather than ask for something that would serve only his own wants and desires, Hezekiah desires that this would also give glory to God.
Often we are not quite so open-minded in our own prayers as we form them from a laundry list of our own desires. Often when we pray together, we limit our prayers to our own desire that either we or those within whom we share a relationship are healed of some physical condition or disease, ignoring any other facet of God and His purpose for us. When we do this we are doing little more than trying to use God as a universal credit card to purchase for free a release from physical illness. Jesus said that our prayers are heard when we pray in His name:
John 14:13. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
What does it mean to pray in His name? Some teach a "name-it-and-claim-it" theology that argues that any prayer that is sincerely asked of God will require His positive response based upon this promise. However, to ask in His name is to ask in a manner that is fully immersed in subjection to who Jesus is: Savior and Lord. A prayer that describes the desire of our own will, but not that of God, is not one that is in His name. Even at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus clearly acknowledged that the only answer to his prayer for release from the torture He was about to face would be consistent with the will of the Father.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: 22This is the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. 23Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. 24By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel. 25I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. 26Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps. 27Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up. 28But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. 29Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. 30And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. 31And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: 32For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. 33Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. 34By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. 35For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant Davidís sake.
It had been a long time since a king of a tribe of Israel had so sincerely approached the Lord for deliverance. God had promised deliverance to the faithful at Mount Sinai, a promise given to every individual who would place their faith and trust in Him. Israel and Judah had experienced the consequence of trying to live outside of the hand of God's protection, finding that their dependence upon their own armies or the armies of allied nations could not protect them. Despite the grievous apostasy of Judah that characterized its past, the repentance of faithful Hezekiah was accepted by God just as He accepts anyone who will repent and turn to Him.
Hezekiah heard the response of his prayer through another message from Isaiah. The LORD knows of the reproach and blasphemy of Sennacherib and his Assyrian nation, and the attack upon Judah, the children of God, is as an attack on Himself. We might characterize this as the response of a loving father to an unjust attack upon a beloved child. God promises to mount up like an army and destroy that by which Assyria holds its power including the resources that Assyria has besieged. God makes it clear that Sennacherib cannot escape the coming judgment since he cannot hide from God. Assyria will be tamed like a bull that is subjected to the nose hook and bridle, forced to follow the lead of the master as it is turned back from its plans of conquest. Instead of living off of the spoils of its conquests, Assyria will have to meet its own needs.
Furthermore, God makes a simple promise: Assyria will not have the opportunity to attack Jerusalem. Though the city stands defenseless against the Assyrian encampment of over 185,000 soldiers and support personnel at Libnah, only a few miles from the city wall, not a single arrow will fall on the city. God promised to deliver the city by His own power.
Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. 37So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
At some point after Isaiah's message was delivered to Hezekiah, Sennacherib experienced the devastating consequence of God's promise to protect Jerusalem. Where every other kingdom had fallen before his army like so many little dominoes in a row, Jerusalem would stand untouched. Sennacherib and his leadership awoke in the morning to find the army decimated by death in the night. The historian Sennacherib records the event in his annals, corroborating the biblical account of the sudden death of his army. Hezekiah put his trust in the Lord, while the Assyrian king had his trust in his own ability to place around himself an army and a leadership that could protect him. Now, Sennacherib found himself traveling back to Nineveh without his army, and without his circle of protectors. Soon afterward two of his sons killed him and fled the region, leaving a third son to serve as Assyria's king. Assyria would never again wield the power it had under Sargon II and Sennacherib. Instead, the power would soon shift over to a neighbor to the south, a neighbor who would again test the faith of Judah: Babylon and a king named Nebuchadnezzar. Mighty Assyria, the nation that destroyed Israel, found its demise at the hand of the LORD.
We see in this passage a dramatic illustration of the consequence of sin, the burden that sin brings, and the faithfulness of God to demonstrate His grace and love towards those who, even when immersed in the worst of circumstances, will repent of their sin and turn to God for help. We may ask, "Why did Israel and Judah so easily turn their backs on God and give up His promise of protection?" But, before we ask, we might look into our own hearts and ask the same question. Why do we so easily ignore God's will in our lives and build up for ourselves circumstances and burdens that bring us such stress and sorrow when God was there all the time? As we look at the stressors in our lives, let us evaluate their source. Are they the result of decisions that we have made outside of our truly seeking God's will? Are they decisions that were made by our own confidence to handle things our own way? Were they decisions that were clearly ungodly and unrepresentative of God's love? Is there conflict in our own lives that we have created through the expression of our own pride and self-will/?
God's grace is amazing. Regardless of the depth we fall, He will always pick us up and deliver us. We may have to suffer the consequences of our choices, but as long as we place our faith and trust in Him, He will always be faithful to forgive. He will always be faithful to that simple promise: to provide a place for us, and to assure our place in it. For each who have placed their trust in Him, that place is eternal, and by His side. Just as Hezekiah placed the letters from Sennacherib on the altar of God, we have the opportunity to place on the altar those sins in our own lives that cause us such grief. Then, with a spirit of humility and repentance, let us ask God to take those sins from us and forgive us for our foolishness.
We all have a choice: either hold on to the heavy baggage of our lives, or let it go and give it to God. When we finally let go, we will begin to experience a greater peace and joy in our lives as we find our burdens lifted, replaced by God's love and grace that we are free to share with one another. What better choice is there?