God of the Impossible

21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

23 “‘Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
24 By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon,
to cut down its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses,
to come to its remotest height,
    its most fruitful forest.
25 I dug wells
    and drank waters,
to dry up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.

26 “‘Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
    crash into heaps of ruins,
27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

28 “‘I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
29 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.’

30 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

33 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. – Isaiah 37:21-38 ESV

In his moment of greatest need, King Hezekiah had determined to trust God and called out to Him for help. He had appealed to God‘s power, sovereignty, covenant faithfulness, and sole standing as the creator of the universe. Hezekiah to his problem to God Almighty and begged Him to look down from heaven and act on their behalf. And now, Isaiah brings the king a message from God.

First, God had a word for Hezekiah:

“Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.” – Isaiah 37:21 NLT

Hezekiah’s trust in God, as evidenced by his prayer of intercession, was rewarded by God’s explanation of what was going to happen next. He let Hezekiah know exactly what His plans for Sennacherib and the Assyrians were going to be. And He delivered a personal message for King Sennacherib as well.

“…because of your raging against me
    and your arrogance, which I have heard for myself,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – Isaiah 37:29 NLT

It is important to remember just how bad the situation was when Hezekiah prayed his prayer to God. The Assyrian army was camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. A total of 46 cities within Judah had already fallen to the Assyrians, and King Sennacherib had sent word to the people of Jerusalem that they surrender or face certain annihilation. These were dark days for King Hezekiah. The prospects for his capital city and its inhabitants could not have looked bleaker. But he had taken his need to the Lord. It would be easy to conclude that Hezekiah had no other options. He had run out of tricks up his sleeve and was left with no other alternative but to cry out to God. But the important fact is that he did cry out to God. And God heard his cry and responded.

In his humiliated state of despair and need, dressed in sackcloth and completely aware of his own impotence and dependence upon God, Hezekiah had appealed to the Almighty. But King Sennacherib displays a markedly different attitude. In his pride and arrogance, dressed in his royal robes and boasting of his own power, he had mocked the Almighty. And God was not pleased.

“Whom have you been defying and ridiculing?
    Against whom did you raise your voice?
At whom did you look with such haughty eyes?
    It was the Holy One of Israel!” – Isaiah 37:23 NLT

Sennacherib was a walking ego, bragging about his many exploits and describing himself in self-adulating terms that made him sound like a god.

“You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest heights
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot,
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – Isaiah 37:24-25 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from “I” disease, a common malady among world leaders. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had the same problem.

“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Self-made men tend to suffer from self-exaltation. Their success goes to their heads, and they begin to believe that they alone are responsible for their fame and fortune. But God breaks the news to Sennacherib that his rapid rise to world domination had been anything but his own doing.

“But have you not heard?
    I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.” – Isaiah 37:26 NLT

Sennacherib had been little more than an instrument in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe. God had used the Assyrians to accomplish His own divine ends. And as quickly as they had risen to power by the decree of God, they could just as easily be rendered a non-factor on the world stage by His hand. And God let Sennacherib know that his days were numbered. His fifteen minutes of fame was about to come to an abrupt end.

All of this had to have sounded too good to be true to Hezekiah. While he had prayed to God for help, the idea that God would completely eliminate the Assyrian problem was more than he could have dreamed. And God seems to have sensed Hezekiah’s lingering doubt, so He provided the king with proof. He let him know that, within three years time, the people of Judah would be planting and harvesting their crops just like they always had. The land, devastated by the Assyrians, would once again yield its crops and return to its former state of fruitfulness. And this is important to note because of the arrogant boast made by King Sennacherib.

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

The Assyrian king had promised to provide the people of Judah with grain, grapes, wine and bread. He had arrogantly placed himself in the role of God Almighty. But God wanted Hezekiah to know that true fruitfulness came only from His hand. And while it would take some time before the remnants of the Assyrian army were removed from the land, God promised to restore the fortunes and fruitfulness of Judah.

“For a remnant of my people will spread out from Jerusalem,
    a group of survivors from Mount Zion.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!” – Isaiah 37:32 NLT

God was going to save a remnant of His people. He would not allow the Assyrians to destroy Jerusalem. Instead, He would intervene and display His covenant faithfulness to a people who had consistently refused to remain faithful to Him. He would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because He is gracious and a God who keeps His commitments.

And God provided Hezekiah with one more detail regarding His plans for the Assyrians. They would never enter the gates of the city. Their boasting and bragging would turn out to be nothing more than idle threats. Not a single arrow would be fired. No siege walls would be built. The entire army of Assyria would disappear as quickly as it had come. And God had a special surprise for Sennacherib and his invincible army.

That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – Isaiah 37:36-37 NLT

God delivered a miracle. The Lord of Heavens Armies sent a single angel who devastated the vaunted troops of Sennacherib’s army. Overnight, he lost 185,000 of his finest soldiers, and God didn’t even lift a finger. His work was accomplished by one of His angels, a sobering reminder of God’s superior strength and sovereign power. And the once mighty Sennacherib would return home to Assyria, only to face assassination at the hands of his own sons. His plans didn’t turn out as expected. But God’s did. His divine will was accomplished just as He had planned it long before Sennacherib was even born.

While things could not have looked bleaker from Hezekiah’s vantage point, he placed his trust in God. And he was far from disappointed. God accomplished the impossible. He did what Egypt could never have done. He provided a solution that was beyond man’s ability and outside human reasoning. In his wildest dreams, Hezekiah could have never imagined a scenario like this one. But because he trusted God, he was given the privilege of seeing the salvation of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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The Work of the Lord Our God.

Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer
    against Babylon,
    against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,
and I will send to Babylon winnowers,
    and they shall winnow her,
and they shall empty her land,
    when they come against her from every side
    on the day of trouble.
Let not the archer bend his bow,
    and let him not stand up in his armor.
Spare not her young men;
    devote to destruction all her army.
They shall fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans,
    and wounded in her streets.
For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken
    by their God, the Lord of hosts,
but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt
    against the Holy One of Israel.

“Flee from the midst of Babylon;
    let every one save his life!
Be not cut off in her punishment,
    for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance,
    the repayment he is rendering her.
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand,
    making all the earth drunken;
the nations drank of her wine;
    therefore the nations went mad.
Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
    wail for her!
Take balm for her pain;
    perhaps she may be healed.
We would have healed Babylon,
    but she was not healed.
Forsake her, and let us go
    each to his own country,
for her judgment has reached up to heaven
    and has been lifted up even to the skies.
The Lord has brought about our vindication;
    come, let us declare in Zion
    the work of the Lord our God.

“Sharpen the arrows!
    Take up the shields!

The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple.

“Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon;
    make the watch strong;
set up watchmen;
    prepare the ambushes;
for the Lord has both planned and done
    what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
O you who dwell by many waters,
    rich in treasures,
your end has come;
    the thread of your life is cut.
The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
    and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.”
Jeremiah 51:1-14 ESV

God’s indictment of Babylon continues. He has already far exceeded the length of His other oracles concerning Egypt, Ammon, Moab and Edom. He obviously has much to say concerning the fate of the nation of Babylon. And His words concerning Babylon extend well beyond King Nebuchadnezzar and the nation as it was known in Jeremiah’s day. Babylon would become a byword and a standing symbol for all things anti-God. In fact, in the book of Revelation, John is given a vision by an angelic being concerning Babylon.

“Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.”

So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement. – Revelation 17:1-6 NLT

Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon becomes the personification of spiritual adultery and immorality. She represents the world without God, full of pride, characterized by power and wealth, addicted to sexual immorality and drunk with the blood of God’s holy people. In a sense, Babylon is a picture of mankind apart from God, left to its own devices. Rather than seek God, man will always attempt to make himself god, creating false deities that are nothing more than a slightly more powerful version of himself. The apostle Paul provides us with a very dark description of mankind in rebellion against God.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

Babylon would become an enduring symbol of mankind’s stubborn resistance to God’s will and their ongoing rebellion against God’s rightful place as not only their creator, but their God. In this passage, God refers to Babylon as Leb-kamai, a code name for Chaldea, which literally means “heart of my adversaries.” They were His enemies. They stood in pride-filled opposition to Him. But their day of destruction was coming. Literal Babylon, the nation that had destroyed Judah, would fall at the hands of the Persians. But symbolic Babylon would also fall. But in the midst of all of this, God reminds His people that He is still watching over them and that the coming judgment on Babylon will be a sign of His love for them and His vengeance against all those who have opposed them and sought to eliminate them.

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has not abandoned Israel and Judah.
He is still their God,
    even though their land was filled with sin
    against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

God will save His people, not because they deserve it, but because He had made a covenant with them. He will honor His commitment to preserve and protect them. He will keep His Word to restore them to a right relationship with Him. All because He is faithful, gracious, merciful and loving. And the day is coming when the people of Israel and Judah will be able to say:

“The Lord has vindicated us.
    Come, let us announce in Jerusalem
    everything the Lord our God has done.” – Jeremiah 51:10 NLT

It would have been so easy for the people of Judah to have seen their situation as helpless and hopeless. They had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive. Their nation was in a shambles, their capital city had been destroyed, and the temple of their God lay in ruins. They had no king. They no longer had an army. The glory days of David and Solomon were long gone. But God was far from finished with them. And God was not yet done with Babylon. He would raise up yet another conquering nation, Persia, which would defeat the once-great Babylonians. And then they too, would eventually fall. The Romans would rise to power and would rule the land during the days when God’s Son came to earth. But their days of power and prominence would also come to an end. Nations rise and fall. Kings come to power and then find themselves replaced by yet another individual with grandiose aspirations to rule and reign. But none of these kings, dictators, presidents, despots, or aspiring gods, will ever stand before God Almighty. Even the great Babylon, symbol of man’s immorality and desire for deity, will one day be destroyed.

After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting,

“Praise the Lord!
    Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.
His judgments are true and just.
    He has punished the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality.
    He has avenged the murder of his servants.” – Revelation 19:1-2 NLT

There is much about prophecy that we cannot understand. These matters are far beyond our reasoning capabilities and outside our human capacity to discern. But, in faith, we need to trust that “the Lord will fulfill all his plans against Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:12 NLT). We can rest in the confidence provided by God’s faithful pronouncement, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has taken this vow and has sworn to it by his own name” (Jeremiah 51:14 NLT). The work of the Lord our God will be done. His plan will be fulfilled. His promises regarding this world and His people who live in it, will come about just as He has said it will. No matter what we see happening around us, we can know that God is greater than Babylon the great. He is more powerful than the mightiest nation. He is sovereign over all. And all those who stand opposed to Him and attempt to replace the one true God with themselves or an idol of their own choosing, will one day discover that they were living the delusion of Babylon. And all of those who have placed their faith in the one true God will be able to say, along with the redeemed of Israel and Judah, “The Lord has vindicated us.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Day of Vengeance.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.

About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“Prepare buckler and shield,
    and advance for battle!
Harness the horses;
    mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
    polish your spears,
    put on your armor!
Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
    and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
    and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
    terror on every side!
declares the Lord.

“The swift cannot flee away,
    nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
    they have stumbled and fallen.

“Who is this, rising like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge?
Egypt rises like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
    I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
Advance, O horses,
    and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
    men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
    men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
    a day of vengeance,
    to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
    and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
    in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you.
The nations have heard of your shame,
    and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
    they have both fallen together.” Jeremiah 46:1-12 ESV

At this point in the book, as it comes to a close, the attention of God shifts to the other nations who have played significant parts in the stories of Israel and Judah. God will speak oracles concerning each of these nations, providing a glimpse into what their fates will be. In doing so, God reveals His sovereign will over all the nations and peoples of the world, not just the Jews. His divine will and sovereign plan encompasses the entire earth and all who live on it. And God will begin His revelation concerning His plans for the nations by focusing His attention on Egypt. This should not be surprising, considering the fact that a portion of the people of Judah had fled to Egypt for safety, and they had taken God’s prophet along with them.

Egypt had been a significant power in the region of Canaan for centuries. There was a time when they controlled significant portions of Canaan and Syria, but they had lost these regions in subsequent battles with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. In this oracle, provided by God to Jeremiah, we are given God’s pronouncement of Egypt’s defeat by the Babylonians. It all began in 609 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco and his troops marched to Carchemesh which was located on the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. King Josiah of Judah attempted to stop Neco, but was killed in battle. In the fourth year (605 B.C.) of the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, Prince Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Neco’s forces, providing the Babylonians with complete control of the region. In this passage, God predicts this event. And while, Jeremiah writes in the past tense, he actually penned these words long before the events took place.

In the opening verses, Jeremiah warns the Egyptians to prepare themselves for battle. They are to arm themselves for war, making sure they include their chariots and war horses. But in the very next verses, Jeremiah paints a picture of the Egyptian forces running way in terror. Even the bravest warriors are attempting to escape, as fast as they can, not bothering to look back. “They are terrorized at every turn” (Jeremiah 46:5 NLT). But they can’t escape. There is nowhere to run. The Egyptian’s took great pride in their army because of its invincible power. They boastfully compared its might to that of the Nile when it overflowed its banks during flooding.

It is the Egyptian army,
    overflowing all the land,
boasting that it will cover the earth like a flood,
    destroying cities and their people. – Jeremiah 46:8 NLT

God issues a challenge to the Egyptians and all their allies.

Charge, you horses and chariots;
    attack, you mighty warriors of Egypt!
Come, all you allies from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia
    who are skilled with the shield and bow! – Jeremiah 46:9 NLT

But God warns them that things are not going to turn out quite like they expected. This would be a day of defeat for them, because they were running headlong into the sovereign will of God, the Lord God of hosts. This would prove to be a day of vengeance, when God would bring His judgment on the nation of Egypt. There is no reason given for Egypt’s fall. Perhaps it was due to Pharaoh Neco’s murder of King Josiah. But God is not required to provide us with a rationale or justification for His actions. He is the God of the universe. His ways are not our ways. “His judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2 NLT).

The battle will end in defeat. The Egyptians will fall to the swords of the Babylonians. And God describes this event as a sacrificial offering. The blood of the Egyptians will be spilled as payment for their many sins and for their arrogance and pride, believing themselves to be unbeatable in battle. God is clearly showing that He alone is God. Pharaoh is not divine. His troops are not invincible. It would not be because of the superior nature of the Babylonian forces that Egypt would fall that day, but because of the sovereign will and almighty power of God.

God recommends that Egypt go to Gilead and take advantage of their healing balms. But they would find no medicine strong enough to restore their health. Egypt, long renowned for its healing arts, would be incapable of recovering from the devastation God was bringing upon them. There was no ointment that could heal the wounds inflicted by a vengeful God. There were not enough allies to prevent defeat at the hands of a sovereign God, the Lord of heaven’s armies. These mighty nations that had risen to power and whose kings believed they had the right to rule over all the world, would find that the scope of their power was limited and their dreams of world domination were controlled by a power outside of themselves.

It is likely that these oracles from God were intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was in control. While they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God wanted them to understand that all the events surrounding their circumstances were part of His divine plan. He was in control of all that was taking place in the world at that time. They were never to have placed their hopes in foreign nations. They were to trust in God alone. But Judah and Israel had made a habit out of trusting in anything and everything but God. They had repeatedly turned to alliances with foreign nations and to the worship of false gods as their sources of comfort and security. But God was reminding them that He alone could be trusted. He alone could provide true safety and security. He alone was powerful enough to rely upon in times of need.

It is interesting to look back in the history of Judah and recall the time when Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians was invading Judah. He sent an emissary to King Hezekiah, with a word of warning.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:4-6 NLT

Even then, Judah was prone to place its trust in Egypt. And Sennacherib warned Hezekiah against putting the fate of his people in the hands of an unreliable “reed” like Egypt. But Sennacherib went on to warn Hezekiah not to put his trust in God either.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?” – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Ah, the pride of man. It is inescapable and unavoidable. Time and time again, all throughout history, we see it raise its ugly head, as mere men set themselves up as the masters of their fate and the self-proclaimed kings of the world. But they fail to recognize that God alone is King. He alone rules and reigns. It is His will alone that matters. And these oracles from God concerning the fates of the nations surrounding Judah were designed to let the people of God know that He was still in control. In the midst of their dire circumstances, they could rest in the fact that their God was still on His throne.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

From Bad to Worse.

And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face.  Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated. – Esther 7:7-10 ESV

Haman’s entire life seems to have been a series of well-calculated plans intended to elevate himself to highest realms of power, popularity and financial success. And up until recently, he had proven to be successful. It is important to remember that Haman, like Mordecai, was not a native Persian. He was an Amalakite and either he or one of his ancestors was taken captive by the Babylonians during one of their many expeditions into the land of Palestine. As an outsider, Haman had done well for himself. He had risen to become one of the most important and influential dignitaries in the king’s court, with tremendous power and prestige. Haman had a made it a personal mission to become a success and he had achieved his goal. After attending the first banquet held by Esther, he had bragged to his wife and friends: “Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). He was the epitome of a self-made man. 

Haman stands in stark contrast to another man who found himself living as an outsider in a foreign land. Daniel was taken captive as a result of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. He was taken prisoner and transported to the royal capital where he was forced into service to the king, Nebuchadnessar. Daniel was one of the “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4 ESV). He was to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. “The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king” (Daniel 1:5 ESV). And we’re told that God gave Daniel favor and compassion with the eunech who was in charge of his care. Daniel had no personal agenda. He had no plan to worm his way into the good graces of the king and secure for himself a position of power and prominence. In fact, Daniel simply wanted to obey his God. And yet, God would choose to elevate Daniel.

God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. – Daniel 1:17-20 ESV

Haman was a self-made man. Everything he had achieved in life had been the result of his own hard work and carefully calculated schemes. And here he was having dinner with the king and queen. But things were not going well. His plot to wipe out an entire people group has just been exposed by the queen and she has dropped the bombshell of an admission that she was a member of that group. Haman was in shock. And the king was beside himself in anger. He was so upset that he had to leave the room in order to think. And when he returned he found Haman draped all over the couch where Queen Esther was seated. Haman had simply been begging for his life, but to the king, it looked like he was attempting to kill Esther with his own hands.

The king has Haman arrested. And this is where Haman’s carefully crafted world completely falls apart. The king is informed that Haman “has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination” (Esther 7:9 NLT). Just when Haman didn’t think it could get any worse, it did. He had originally hoped that this banquet would be the perfect environment to ask the king for permission to execute Mordecai. But that all had been spoiled when he had to parade Mordecai around the streets of Susa in honor of his role in saving the king’s life. None of this had been part of his plan. How was he to have known that Esther was a Jew? How could all his carefully laid plans have fallen apart such epic fashion? The answer is simple: God. He had not included the sovereignty and providence of God in his calculations. He had not considered the handiwork of the Almighty in his plans. But it was becoming painfully clear to Haman that there were greater forces at work here than he could have ever imagined.

Back in the book of Daniel, we have the story of Daniel’s Hebrew friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The had refused to bow down before the golden image erected by King Nebuchadnezzar, and their fate was to be thrown into the fiery furnace. When given one last chance to reconsider, they simply said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18 NLT). What a contrast. They knew God was at work. They had no doubt that the Almighty was mightier than the king of Babylon and the forces of evil surrounding them. And they were willing to die for Him if necessary.

Haman would simply die. Not for a god, but for his own self-centered agenda. “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai” (Esther 7:10 ESV). He had spent his entire life focused on himself and he would die alone and forgotten. He had unwittingly pitted himself against the God of the universe. He had plotted and planned against the Lord God Almighty and lost. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had placed their faith in God and lived. Daniel would do the same and survive a night in a den full of man-eating lions. He would know what it was like to have God deliver him from the worst-case scenario. Haman would simply discover the pain of watching his world go from bad to worse. No God. No hope. Know God. Know hope.