WHEN THE ENEMY IS AT THE GATE
Isaiah 37:14-20, 30-35
- Introduction. A new king now rules over Judah. In 715 BC, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, replaced his father. II Kings 18 says that unlike Ahaz, he “did right in the eyes of the Lord” (v 3). Though he faltered at times (like us today), he did much good. He reopened the temple, destroyed the holy places of idol worship, and lived according to the laws of Moses. He also had the courage to refuse to pay the annual tribute to Assyria. (Look back at last Sunday’s lesson.)
Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, angered at Hezekiah’s rebellion, invaded Judah, marching all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. Through messengers, he engaged in psychological warfare, threatening total devastation and ridiculing the God Hezekiah worshipped. (Note 36:4-10.) Hezekiah, again unlike his father, turned to God first. He did hope for and sought help from the King of Egypt (which came). But uppermost in his mind was his unwavering trust in and dependence upon God. God did intervene, and with the aid of the Egyptian forces, Sennacherib retreated back to Assyria. (He was later killed by his own sons as he worshipped one of his idols.)
- 37:14-20. Hezekiah’s Prayer. Sennacherib, as a ploy in his psychological battle with Hezekiah, sent a note ridiculing God and pointing out all the cities he, the great king, had defeated and left in ruins (see 37:9-13). Immediately, Hezekiah took the letter into the temple, spread the letter out before the Lord, and prayed. The important thing for us here is that Hezekiah prayed before he did anything else. He sought God before he began planning his response and before seeking others’ advice. Good thinking, don’t you agree?
He began his prayer by addressing God. “The Lord of Armies,” “the God of Israel,” and “the maker of heaven and earth” are terms of exaltation and praise. Hezekiah knew that he was walking into the presence of the greatest power the world could imagine. Yet, he believed his petitions were welcome. Again, a commanding model for us today.
Next, in verses 17-19 Hezekiah outlined the problem. I am sure that Hezekiah was aware that God already knew what Hezekiah was facing. I do this kind of thing all the time. I tell God what is going on, not to inform God, but to organize it in my own mind. Then in verse 20, he sets forth in trusting confidence exactly what he is asking God to do. He said, “God, get us out of this fix (save us) so you will be glorified among all peoples.” I truly believe that Hezekiah was sincere in his motive (to get God glory). What is our motive in asking God’s help? I must confess that, more times than not, I ask to be rescued from a fix because my life would be easier. I don’t think that is necessarily bad, so long as I am honestly aware of what exactly my motive is.
- 37:21-19. God’s Response to Sennacherib’s Arrogance. The writers of our quarterly have asked us to skip verses 21-29. If you take time to read these verses, you will find the beautiful and powerful response of God to Sennacherib. It reads like an elegant poem from a wise person to an egomaniac. Reading it is well worth your time because it is a message to our atheistic, secular society which thinks all good comes from human accomplishment.
In essence these verses say, “You have insulted God and heaped insults on the Lord. You have said that you have many chariots and you alone, in your own power, have done wonderous things. You have destroyed cities and shamed the people and been proud of the devastation you have left in your wake. You rage against me, laugh at me, and your insolence has reached my ears. My people will dance with joy as you flee before my power.” As noted earlier, that is exactly what occurred. Sennacherib fled in hasty retreat before the approaching Egyptian army and returned to his own murder at the hands of his sons. In less than a hundred years, Assyria was no more
As I read these words in Isaiah, I am reminded of a story from the life of Joseph Stalin. He is a perfect embodiment of the atheistic, secular culture that places such arrogant pride in life without God. At one point during the negotiations after WWII, someone asked him, “What about the power of God?” “God,” Stalin shouted, “how many regiments does God have?” He was soon to discover the answer to his question.
Let us be careful at this point. We, too, ordinary Americans, can be guilty of this kind of arrogant pride. Any time we ignore God and try to solve our problems by our own planning and manipulation, we are guilty of the same offense as Sennacherib and Stalin. And the outcome is as futile for us as it was for them.
- 37:30-32. God’s Promise for the Future. In verse 30, he offers a sign to Hezekiah that Judah will be saved. In three years, the agricultural cycle will return to normal. This is a promise of immense importance to an agricultural society. The continued disruption of planting and harvest by an occupying army means certain starvation for the people. (Indeed, that fact is true of all society. We are all dependent on agriculture. As the bumper sticker has it, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.”)
God again returns to the image of the stump. The vineyard may be destroyed but the stump of the vine will remain. So, a remnant will always be left to carry on God’s message. Today, we are that stump!Jesus promised, “Anyone who is thirsty, let him come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink. For the scriptures declare, ‘rivers of living water will flow from his heart’” (John 7:37-38). The quote from the scriptures comes from Isaiah 58:11. If you examine this passage carefully, you will find that it promises, in addition to water, that God will guide us and give us strength. Verse 12 adds that we will “rebuild cities” and be “known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” If nowhere else, we can do that in our own lives and marriages.
- 37:33-35. Closing the Book on Assyria. God promises that, not only would Sennacherib not enter the city of Jerusalem, he would not even shoot an arrow there. He would go home by the same roads he traveled to get there, but with his tail between his legs. God promises Hezekiah, “I will defend this city.” He kept that promise at that time, and he has kept it until this present day!
Conclusion. This passage offers us both a warning and a hope. Sennacherib is the warning. He truly thought his success in life, such as it was, came from his own abilities. That is a temptation which is particularly strong in our world today. Young men and women, who already have a sense of invincibility, face this attraction on every side. But none of us is exempt from this lure. It is powerful and subtle and slips in without warning.
Our hope is seen in Hezekiah. With the first sign of trouble, he turned to God for help. And found it. Long before the enemy was at the gate, God had been preparing the Egyptians to provide the help his people needed. Our hope is in our trust in that kind of God.
- Lesson provided by Jim Kitchens