Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 NLT

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




Yet I Will Praise Him

A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

10 I said, In the middle of my days
    I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
    for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the Lord,
    the Lord in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
    among the inhabitants of the world.
12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
    like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
    he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13     I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
    from day to night you bring me to an end.

14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
    I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
    O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15 What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
    and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
    because of the bitterness of my soul.

16 O Lord, by these things men live,
    and in all these is the life of my spirit.
    Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
    that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
    from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
    behind your back.
18 For Sheol does not thank you;
    death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
    for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
    as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
    your faithfulness.

20 The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.

21 Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” 22 Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” – Isaiah 38:9-21 ESV

Hezekiah had been severely ill, and the prophet Isaiah had given him the divine prognosis that his illness would end in death. In his despair, Hezekiah prayed to God and received the news that he would be healed and his life would be extended an additional 15 years. The book of 2 Kings provides additional details concerning Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery.

Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! – 2 Kings 20:7 NLT

Sometime after these events, Hezekiah composed a poem commemorating the occasion and recording the diverse range of emotions he had experienced.

Hezekiah had been rocked by the news of his pending death. It was unexpected and had caught him completely by surprise. Like anyone facing the prospect of an untimely death, Hezekiah thought about all those he would leave behind.

“Never again will I see the Lord God
    while still in the land of the living.
Never again will I see my friends
    or be with those who live in this world.” – Isaiah 38:11 NLT

He couldn’t help but feel that he was being robbed of life, and denied the joy of experiencing all the pleasures that come to the living. Like all men, he had a difficult time imagining what existence beyond death might look like. He refers to his soul being confined to Sheol, the abode of the dead. The ancient Jews did not have a well-developed understanding of the afterlife. Their concept of the blessings of God was closely tied to life on this side of death, not beyond it. Which led Hezekiah to wonder whether his premature death was the result of his own sin. He couldn’t help but consider that he had somehow displeased God and his terminal illness was a form of divine punishment. For the Jews, disease was viewed as a sign of God’s displeasure. The apostle John records a scene from the life of Jesus that reflects this common misperception.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” – John 9:1-2 NLT

The disciples were reflecting the commonly held view that blindness was a curse, not a blessing. So, this man or his parents must have done something that angered God and brought about his blindness.

Hezekiah shared this mindset and saw his illness as a curse from God. Which led Hezekiah to pray incessantly, his voice sounding like the coos of a dove as he moaned out his pleas for God’s mercy. And yet, he somehow believed that his calls for healing would be ineffectual.

“But what could I say?
    For he himself sent this sickness.
Now I will walk humbly throughout my years
    because of this anguish I have felt.” – Isaiah 38:15 NLT

His illness was God’s doing, and there was nothing he could do about it. But his poem takes a dramatic turn at this point. Suddenly, Hezekiah begins to reflect his gratefulness for the dark night of the soul he experienced.

“Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.” – Isaiah 38:15-17 NLT

God provided healing and the assurance that his life would be extended another 15 years. Hezekiah’s sorrow was immediately replaced with joy. His despair was replaced with delight in God’s mercy and unmerited favor. God was allowing him to live and, not only that, forgiving his sins in the process. Because Hezekiah believed his illness was the result of sin, his healing could only have happened if God forgave his sin.

You can sense Hezekiah’s rather earth-bound and limited view of life and the afterlife. From his human perspective, life was essential if one were going to praise God.

“For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.” – Isaiah 38:18 NLT

He shared the commonly-held view that this life was where God’s blessings were to be enjoyed and where our devotion to God was to be displayed. You see this mindset reflected in the psalms.

The heavens belong to the Lord,
    but he has given the earth to all humanity.
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
    for they have gone into the silence of the grave. – Psalm 115:16-17 NLT

Even King David had shared this view of life and death.

Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
    Save me because of your unfailing love.
For the dead do not remember you.
    Who can praise you from the grave? – Psalm 6:4-5 NLT

From Hezekiah’s perspective, long life provided an opportunity to praise God. “Only the living can praise you as I do today” (Isaiah 38:19 NLT). And he intended to take advantage of every single moment God was going to give him on this earth.

I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 NLT

Hezekiah’s desire to spend his remaining years praising God is commendable. His ecstatic reaction to the news of his healing is natural and normal. He had been facing certain death and, suddenly, he had been given a new lease on life. In the excitement of the moment, Hezekiah expressed his desire to repay God by dedicating his life to the praise and glory of God. And again, this reaction by Hezekiah is commendable, but it raises some unavoidable questions: Are we only willing to praise God when He gives us the desires of our heart? Had God not chosen to heal Hezekiah, would the king have praised the Almighty anyway? Would he have accepted the will of God even when it seemed to contradict his own human understanding of what it means to be blessed by God?

The prophet Habakkuk provides us with a much more balanced illustration of how we, as humans, should understand and respond to the seeming incongruities of life.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT

The apostle Paul shared this same viewpoint, declaring to the believers in Rome that, even in the face of trials and troubles, we have ample reason to praise God.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. – Roman 5:3-5 NLT

In Hezekiah, we have reflected a similar but significantly different sentiment.

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live! – Isaiah 38:16 NLT

The question is whether we, as those who believe in the sovereignty of God, are willing to accept both the good and the bad of life as coming through His hands. It was right for Hezekiah to rejoice in God’s healing. It was appropriate for him to respond with praise and adoration at his miraculous restoration by God. But the fact is, God does not always heal. Things do not always turn out for the better. Those with terminal illnesses do not always receive an additional 15-years of life. But those facts do not alter the goodness of God. They do not do anything to diminish the divine sovereignty of God. In our greatest moments of darkness and despair, our attitude should be that of Job who, when facing the loss of all that he had, was able to say:

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Praising God in the good times is easy. Praising Him the difficult times requires faith and a strong belief that His will is always right and His plan, while not always clear to us, has our best interest in mind.

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



A Day of Distress, Rebuke, and Disgrace

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV

The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?

“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

Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.

“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV

These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.

Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT

It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.

What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.

And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT

Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.

Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).

And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.

“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT

And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:

“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.

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


Misplaced Trust

1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”

13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. – Isaiah 36:1-21 ESV

The fateful day has arrived. The Assyrians are literally knocking at the door of Jerusalem, preparing to add this city to a long list of others they had conquered in the region. Isaiah provides us with a date, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, which would have been 701 BC. By this date, the Assyrians had conquered 46 cities in Judah, including Lachish, which Sennacherib used as a staging area for further military actions.

The Assyrian king sent an emissary, accompanied by a massive army, to discuss surrender terms with King Hezekiah of Judah. This display of might was meant to persuade the king to surrender Jerusalem without a fight. King Hezekiah sent three of his top administrative personnel to meet with the Assyrians and, as they stood just outside the conduit of the upper pool, the people of Judah squeezed onto the walls to see what was going to happen.

It is interesting to note that, 23 years earlier, on this very same spot, Isaiah had been sent by God to confront another king of Judah facing a similar problem.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.’” – Isaiah 7:3-4 ESV

Nearly a quarter-century earlier, Judah was facing the combined forces of Syria and Israel, two nations who had formed an alliance in order to capture Jerusalem and destroy Judah. But God had other plans. He warned King Ahaz to stay strong and not lose heart. As bad as things may have appeared, the outcome would be different than expected. He told them:

“It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” – Isaiah 7:7 ESV

But he also warned them:

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

The Syrians and Israelites never conquered Jerusalem. Their plans were easily thwarted by God. And He used the Assyrians to accomplish His will. Now, 23 years later, the Assyrians were gathered en masse outside the walls of Jerusalem. And the words that Isaiah had spoken to King Ahaz all those years earlier still applied. The people of Judah had no reason to fear if they would only trust in God. And trust is the main theme of King Sennacherib’s ultimatum delivered by his emissary.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?” – Isaiah 36:4 NLT

Remember, the king of Judah had paid a large sum to the Egyptians to secure their assistance in the event that the Assyrians came against them. Their confidence, if any, was in that very expensive alliance. They had placed their hopes in the military might of the Egyptian army. But they were nowhere to be found. And King Sennacherib knew it.

“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 36:5-6 NLT

Sennacherib knew that Egypt would prove to be an unreliable and even dangerous source of security. They could not be depended upon. But the Assyrian king’s strongest words of warning concerning Judah’s misplaced trust were aimed at Yahweh.

“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

Actually, Sennacherib has his facts wrong. When Hezekiah had begun his reign as king over Judah, he was only 25-years old. But he proved to be a different kind of king, ruling much more in line with his ancestor, King David.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. – 2 Kings 1:3-5 NLT

King Sennacherib saw Hezekiah’s removal of the pagan shrines as an affront to Judah’s god. Being a polytheist, he didn’t understand the concept of a single deity who demanded the undivided worship of His people. But it may be likely that Sennacherib was addressing the unspoken fears of the people of Judah, who were wondering if Hezekiah’s reforms had actually angered the false gods they used to worship. Had his radical efforts to rid the realm of all gods but Yahweh been the cause of all their problems? The Assyrian king seems to stir the embers of this smoldering spirit of unrest among the people. And the three royal representatives of King Hezekiah, sensing that Sennacherib’s words were having their planned impact, asked that the rest of the negotiations be conducted in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, so the people on the walls might not understand what was being said. But the Assyrian emissary refused, choosing instead to address the citizens of Judah directly.

Then the chief of staff stood and shouted in Hebrew to the people on the wall, “Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you. Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian king!’” – Isaiah 36:13-15 NLT

Again, the primary emphasis of his message was focused on trust. He warned them not to trust Hezekiah, the Egyptians, or their own God. They couldn’t rely on their king, their allies, or their deity. Sennacherib was removing every single source of support and security. In the place of their unreliable resources, King Sennacherib offered peace and security.

“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.” – Isaiah 36:16 NLT

“I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:17 NLT

Notice what he is doing. He is offering the people of Judah what God had promised to give them. In a sense, he was setting himself up as their god, their source of peace, prosperity, sustenance, and security. And that is what the enemy always does. He appeals to our innate need for divine help, but he sets himself up as the solution to all our needs. It should not escape our notice that Sennacherib and the Assyrians were a threat to the security of Judah. They had proven themselves to be the enemy of the people of God, having already destroyed 46 other cities of Judah. And now they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem, a massive army prepared to add this city to their long list of conquests, and determined to make its citizens its slaves.

The offers of Sennacherib were well-disguised lies. He told the people of Judah what they wanted to hear, offering them escape through surrender, and rescue through compromise. If they would only trust him, they would live. But God would have the people of Judah trust Him alone. No matter how bad things may have appeared, no matter how attractive the enemy’s lies may have sounded, only God could deliver the salvation for which they longed. Listening to the lies of the enemy would result in slavery, not salvation. Trusting in the promises of Satan always brings death, not life. So God calls out to us to remain faithful to Him, to place our trust in Him alone.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

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


The Leadership Void.

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

There was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death. Jeremiah 26:16-24 ESV

The first thing that should jump out at us in this passage is who the two major parties turn out to be in the discussion concerning Jeremiah’s fate. You have the priests and false prophets, but then there are the officials and the people. In the earlier part of this chapter, we saw that it was the priests and prophets who instigated the riot against Jeremiah. When he had prophesied against Judah and the city of Jerusalem, they were the ones who had incited the people to mob Jeremiah.

“Kill him!” they shouted. “What right do you have to prophesy in the Lord’s name that this Temple will be destroyed like Shiloh? What do you mean, saying that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left with no inhabitants?” – Jeremiah 26:8-9 NLT

And the people had followed their lead, going along with their advice to kill the messenger of God. But when the officials of the city had heard what was going on, they rushed to the scene and assessed the situation.

The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. “You have heard with your own ears what a traitor he is, for he has prophesied against this city.” – Jeremiah 26:11 NLT

Jeremiah was given an opportunity to speak for himself, then the officials made a ruling.

Then the officials and the people said to the priests and prophets, “This man does not deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 26:16 NLT

Notice that the people have now sided with the officials. At one point they had been willing to go with the advice of the priests and prophets and join in their plot to kill Jeremiah. Now, after cooler heads had prevailed, they threw in their lot with the officials of the city. And some among them, who had longer memories and grayer hair, reminded the people that something like this had happened before. They told the story of Micah of Moresheth who prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah. He had pronounced a similar fate on Judah and Jerusalem, but the king and the people of that day didn’t kill him for speaking the truth of God. They spared him. And they took his advice and “they turned from their sins and worshiped the Lord. They begged him for mercy” (Jeremiah 26:19 NLT). It was Micah who had delivered the words of God to the people of Judah clearly articulating His expectations of them:

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

Because of the words of men like Micah and Isaiah, King Hezekiah had eventually listened to their calls to repentance and had prayed to God for mercy and help.

“So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:19 NLT

And God had heard his prayers and spared the people.

“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. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 19:32-34 NLT

These older, wiser men of Judah concluded that they would be making a huge mistake if they took the life of Jeremiah. Instead, they should follow the actions of Hezekiah and the people of his day, choosing to spare the prophet of God and listen to his words. Yet, even while they were speaking, “Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim was also prophesying for the Lord” (Jeremiah 26:20 NLT). And his message was the same as that of Jeremiah. When King Jehoakim heard about Uriah, he sent someone to assassinate him. But Uriah escaped to Egypt, where the king had him tracked down and forcibly returned to Judah and executed. Unlike Hezekiah, King Jehoakim had decided to eliminate the threat rather than heed the warning of God. Rather than repent, he had chosen to seek revenge on the messenger of God.

But even while all of this was going on, we’re told that, “Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed” (Jeremiah 26:24 NLT). Jeremiah was spared. The officials and the people determined to let him live. But there is no indication that anyone repented or changed their minds regarding their sinful lifestyles. No one prayed to God for forgiveness or asked Him to spare them from the Babylonians. One prophet was dead. Another prophet had been spared. But the people remained unrepentant and committed to their lifestyle of sin and rebellion against God. Yet we see from this encounter how easily leadership can sway the crowds. At one moment they were ready to follow the lead of the priests and false prophets, willfully playing a part in Jeremiah’s death. Then, as if on a whim, they changed their minds and listened to the officials, choosing instead to spare Jeremiah’s life. They were like leaves floating on the water, totally dependent upon the wind and waves to carry them along. They were morally rudderless and spiritually helpless, unable to decide for themselves what they should do. Later on in this same book, God will make the sad pronouncement concerning His people:

“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” – Jeremiah 50:6 NLT

And generations later, when Jesus appeared on the scene in Judea, we are told that He had a similar response to what He saw.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

Sheep without a shepherd. Nothing could be more disturbing to God than to see His people without godly leadership. In the days of Jeremiah, godly leadership was in short supply. The king was immoral. The priests were ungodly. And the prophets were false. As a result, the people were directionless and left to fend for themselves. They were led by their own desires and prone to listen to whomever told them what they wanted to hear. As the proverb states, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls” (Proverbs 11:14 NLT).

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

When Things Look Down, Look Up.

Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. – 2 Chronicles 32:20 ESV

The psalmist asked the somewhat rhetorical question: “From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1 ESV). Then he gives what should be the obvious answer: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2 ESV). In times of trouble, the one who believes in God turns to Him for hope and help. When things are down, they look up. David, the great king of Israel, wrote, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2 ESV). The psalmist, Korah, echoes this sentiment. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 ESV). And it was with this thought in mind that King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah prayed to their God in heaven. They looked up and they cried out.

The situation was desperate. King Sennacherib of Assyria had invaded Judah with his armies and had Jerusalem surrounded and under siege. He had sent a message to the inhabitants of the city, saying: “Why are you so confident that you remain in Jerusalem while it is under siege? Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will rescue us from the power of the king of Assyria.’ But he is misleading you and you will die of hunger and thirst!” (2 Chronicles 32:10-11 ESV). He went on to threaten the people of Judah with annihilation and warned them that Hezekiah was simply trying to deceive them. He ridiculed the God of Israel and bragged that no other god of any other nation had been able to stand against his armies. “Who among all the gods of these nations whom my predecessors annihilated was able to rescue his people from my power?” (2 Chronicles 32:14 ESV). King Sennacherib even had some of his troops who spoke Hebrew call out to the people of the wall, attempting to demoralize them with threats of destruction. They purposefully ridiculed God. “They talked about the God of Jerusalem as if he were one of the man-made gods of the nations of the earth” (2 Chronicles 32:19 ESV).

Things were definitely looking down. The odds were stacked against Hezekiah and Isaiah. The people were beginning to have second thoughts about Hezekiah’s leadership. They were listening to the words of Sennacherib and wondering if their God was strong enough to stand up against such a great army. There’s no doubt that Hezekiah and Isaiah were hearing a lot of complaining. They were probably getting a lot of advice to simply give up and cave in to the demands of the enemy. Self-preservation was the watchword of the day. Rather than expect victory and deliverance, the people were willing to settle for surrender and submission in exchange for their lives.

But Hezekiah and Isaiah didn’t give up or give in. They looked up and they called out to God. In the darkest of moments they still saw a glimmer of hope, because they believed in the power of their God. They knew Him to be loving, faithful, and fully capable of delivering His people from the greatest of difficulties. Sennacherib and his armies were formidable, but they were no match for the God who had created heaven and earth, who had defeated the armies of Egypt, who had delivered the land of Canaan into the hands of His people by defeating the more powerful nations that lived there. The armies of Judah were nothing compared to those of the Assyrians, but that was inconsequential. It was David, the great warrior-king of Israel, who wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright” (Psalm 20:7-8 ESV). Here was a man who built his reputation on warfare, bravery, battlefield heroics and victories against his enemies. But even he knew that, ultimately, the battle was the Lord’s. Any success against the enemy was His doing.

So Hezekiah and Isaiah cried out to God. And He answered. We’re not told what they prayed. We’re not told how long they prayed. But we are told that God answered, and in a big way. “The Lord sent a messenger and he wiped out all the soldiers, princes, and officers in the army of the king of Assyria. So Sennacherib returned home humiliated” (2 Chronicles 32:21 ESV). God didn’t even have to show up Himself. He simply sent a messenger, much like Sennacherib had done. But God’s messenger brought more than threats and insults. He brought destruction on the enemy and deliverance for His people. In fact, when Sennacherib arrived home, he went into the temple of his god and was murdered by his own sons. His own god wasn’t powerful enough to protect him.

But God proved Himself faithful, powerful, and fully capable of delivering His people from the greatest of difficulties. Sennacherib had boasted, “no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to rescue his people from my power or the power of my predecessors” (2 Chronicles 32:15 ESV). But he didn’t know the God of Israel. He had yet to come up against the God of the universe, the one and only true God, the maker of heaven and earth. Like Hezekiah and Isaiah, may we learn to trust God even in the darkest of moments. May we learn to call out to Him even when all looks lost. Like David, may we be able to say, “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand” (Psalm 20: 6 ESV).

Isaiah 39-40, Revelation 3

Behold Your God!

Isaiah 39-40, Revelation 3

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isaiah 40:10 ESV

Judgment was coming. While God had spared Judah defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, that did not mean that they had dodged the inevitable punishment of God for theirs sins. They were enjoying an undeserved reprieve, but their sinful state still demanded that a just and holy God deal with them judiciously and rightly. What God wanted from His people was repentance. He desired for them to return to Him in faithfulness and dependence, placing their full trust in Him as their God. He wanted them to reflect their unique position as His chosen people and live their lives in accordance with His commands. But they continued to stubbornly and persistently reject His will for their lives. Even Hezekiah, after having been given an additional 15 years of life by God, makes a cardinal error of giving visiting envoys from the land of Babylon a world-wind tour of his kingdom, showing them all his royal treasures and the extend of his military arsenal. In Hezekiah’s mind, he was simply wooing a possible ally in his ongoing fight against the Assyrians. He was trying to impress them with his wealth and power. But in reality, Hezekiah was guilty of placing his hope and trust in something other than God. He saw the eventual rescue of his nation coming from somewhere else other than God. And even when the prophet Isaiah told him that “the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV), Hezekiah mistakenly took it as good news. He somehow thought that this all meant an alliance with Babylon would bring peace and security to the land of Judah. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 39 ends with God’s pronouncement of coming judgment on Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. As almost always seemed to be the case, the people of God never quite fully understood the significance or seriousness of what was about to happen to them. They always seemed to have another trick up their sleeve or another plan that they thought could forestall the inevitable judgment of God. Hezekiah just couldn’t bring himself to believe that God would actually destroy His own people. After all, they were the descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God. They were the apple of His eye and Jerusalem contained the temple in which God’s presence dwelt. But what Hezekiah failed to understand was the holiness of God. He could not and would not tolerate sin among His people. He could not turn a blind eye to their ongoing rebellion and overlook their persistently unrepentant hearts. Judgment was not only inevitable, but unavoidable. As a righteous and holy judge, God had to pass sentence on the sins of the people. To ignore their sins would have made Him unjust. To fail to condemn and pass judgment on their sins would have been an unrighteous act. But God reveals something incredibly powerful in chapter 40. In His divine wisdom and omniscience, God provides Isaiah with a glimpse into the future. It is as if a huge gap exists between the end of chapter 39 and the opening verses of chapter 40. The judgment of God would come. The city of Jerusalem would fall. The temple of God would be destroyed. The people of Judah would end up in exile in Babylon for 70 years. But then something incredible was going to happen. Just when everything was bleak and hopeless, the shout would be heard: “Behold your God!” Just when the people of God had grown accustomed to their exile and resigned to the idea that they would never again see their homeland, the news would be announced, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11 ESV). God was going to act. God was going to do something incomparable and inconceivable. He was going to redeem His people once again from captivity and restore them to the land.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people of Judah did not understand their God. They did not appreciate His power and sovereignty. They took for granted His presence and treated lightly His righteous demands on their lives. God revealed His intimate understanding of them when He rhetorically asked, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (Isaiah 40:27 ESV). Prior to the exile, when they were living in the land of Judah, they acted as if God was oblivious to or indifferent about their behavior. He either didn’t care or couldn’t see what they were doing. Once they found themselves living in exile, they took the defeatist attitude that God didn’t care or was just blind to their predicament. He refused to see anything good that they might be doing. But God reminded them, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV). God was not indifferent to their predicament or incapable of doing something about it. He was the God of the universe. He knows all things. He is all-powerful. He is the source of all strength, all hope, all deliverance, all help, all joy, and all restoration. In spite of the sins of Judah, He would eventually restore them to the land. In spite of the sins of mankind, He will eventually restore His creation to a right relationship with Him. The day is coming when all men will hear the words, “Behold your God!” That does not mean that all men and women will worship Him, but they will acknowledge Him as the God of the universe. There will be no more debate as to His existence or His sovereign reign over everything and everyone.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In Revelation 2-3, we have the words of Jesus spoken to the seven churches. In these two chapters we see Him both commending and condemning these churches. He acknowledges their faithfulness and perseverance under trial. He praises their endurance and determination to remain true to Him even while facing extreme difficulties. But He also reveals their glaring deficiencies and failures. He points out their compromise, as well as their spiritual arrogance and pride. He exposes their self-sufficiency and tolerance of falsehood in their midst. He accuses them of spiritual apathy and lukewarmness. But repeatedly, He reminds them to stay the course. He encourages them to not give up or give in.

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Revelation 2:7 ESV

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” – Revelation 2:11 ESV

To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17 ESV

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations…” – Revelation 2:26 ESV

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” – Revelation 3:5 ESV

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” – Revelation 3:12 ESV

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:21 ESV

While this may all sound like the burden lies on us to make it through to the end, the Scriptures make it clear that our ultimate victory is the Lord’s doing, not our own. Our ability to conquer and come through this life faithful and true is made possible by the indwelling presence of God Himself. Our faithfulness is not of our own making, but is provided by the Spirit of God within us. He empowers and equips us. He gives us strength to obey and the will to remain faithful to the end. So that when all is said and done, and we stand before the Father in heaven, we will hear the words, “Behold your God!” and fully understand the sobering significance of their meaning.

Father, You are incomparable. Your power is immeasurable. Your love for me is unfathomable. I can’t fully grasp who You are and all that You have done for me. Yet You are my God. That is unbelievable. You are with me each and every day of my life. You never leave my side. You never lose sight of me or ever take your hands off of me. You will never leave me nor forsake me. You refuse to abandon me and You will faithfully complete Your plan for me. I WILL conquer. I will survive. I will make it through to the end, in spite of my unfaithfulness, weakness, inconsistencies, lack of love, lukewarmness, compromise and spiritual complacency. It is YOU who are faithful and true. And any good I do in this life is completely up to Your Spirit’s work in my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Chronicles 31-32, Titus 2

Faithful, Yet Surrounded.

2 Chronicles 31-32, Titus 2

After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

We can sometimes falsely believe that our faithfulness to God somehow inoculates or protects us from trouble. It is easy to assume that if we do what God has called us to do and live as He has called us to live, we will enjoy a trouble-free life. But Hezekiah’s life is a great illustration that this philosophy is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. Chapter 31 of 2 Chronicles outlines Hezekiah’s efforts to restore the people of Judah to a right relationship with their God. He ordered the destruction of all the pillars and high places where false god had been worshiped throughout both Judah and Israel. He cut down the Asherim poles and destroyed all the altars where idol worship had taken place. And he did this not only in the nation of Judah, but in Israel as well. Then he reestablished proper worship of God by reorganizing the priests and Levites, and reinstituting the tithing system designed to support these men and their families. Hezekiah “did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 ESV). But this extremely positive assessment of Hezekiah and his faithfulness is followed by the somewhat surprising news that “after these things and these acts of faithfulness,” Hezekiah found himself faced with the prospect of being invaded by the Assyrians. At first blush it would seem that his faithfulness got him little more than an extra dose of trouble. So how would he respond? What would his reaction be to the news that his prosperity was suddenly being confronted with adversity?

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had never promised His people that they would be free from trouble. He had not offered them a trial-free existence devoid of conflict. But He had promised to be with them and to fight on their behalf. Even Jesus had told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). Paul told the believers in Rome, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV). A relationship with God does not exempt us from experiencing the difficulties associated with life in this fallen world. There will always be enemies who stand against us. There will always be trials that test our faith and expose the true condition of our hearts and measure the level of our trust in God. It is one thing to remain faithful when everything around us is going well. But when trouble raises its ugly head, we tend to get a much truer barometer of our faith.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah did not overreact to his circumstances, but he did act. Rather than stand back and whine about his troubles, he took positive steps to prepare for them. We are told that “he planned with his officers and his might men” (2 Chronicles 32:3 ESV). The chronicler makes it clear that Hezekiah “set to work resolutely and built up…” (2 Chronicles 32:5 ESV). He built. He strengthened. He made. He set. He encouraged. Hezekiah got busy. He told the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV). Even when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, began to taunt Hezekiah and mock God, Hezekiah held his ground. The enemy was attempting to get the people to doubt God’s salvation and reject Hezekiah’s leadership. But instead of buying into the lies of the enemy, Hezekiah took his situation before the Lord. He had done his part in preparing for the possibility of an invasion, but he knew that God was the key to their ultimate success. And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered by sending an angel who struck down 185,000 Assyrians in the middle of the night. We’re told that Sennacherib returned home in shame, only to be murdered by his own sons. Hezekiah had been faithful. But the enemies of God are relentless. In this lifetime we will always have to deal with opposition and difficulty. We must always remember that the Lord our God is with us, helping us fight our battles.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Life can be difficult. But God has not left us alone. He has provided us with salvation through His Son. He has filled us with power made possible by His Spirit. He has equipped us with His reliable, infallible Word. Paul reminded Titus that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV). We are surrounded. We are threatened on all sides by an enemy who mocks our God and taunts us to give up hoping in His ability to save us. We are constantly being encouraged to pursue ungodliness and worldly passions. But God has said that it is possible to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives – even in this present age. Those of us who have placed our faith in Christ as our Savior, must remain faithful even in the face of all the adversities of life. We must wait faithfully for our blessed hope. God is not done yet. He has not finished what He started. Our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the one to come. But in the meantime, I must not lose sight of the fact that God is purifying for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works  – even in the midst of all the trials and troubles of life.

Father, help me keep my focus on You. Don’t let me get defeated or deflated by the troubles I encounter in this life. You are with me and You will fight any battles I face for me. But I must be prepared. Like Hezekiah, I must be willing to do my part. Then I need to trust You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

The Need For Godly Leadership.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

Hezekiah was a like a breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual environment that had so long plagued Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken into captivity. Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had closed down the Temple of God, and led the people of Judah in the worship of false gods. He had built high places for the worship of these false gods all over the land of Judah. But then Hezekiah took the throne, and he proved to be a leader of a different sort. One of his first acts as king was to reopen the Temple. He recommissioned the priests, commanding them to consecrate and cleanse themselves so that they could properly care for and cleanse the Temple. Evidently, since the Temple had been shut down, these men had neglected their duties as the spiritual leaders of Judah. But Hezekiah ordered them to take seriously their God-given responsibility and cleanse the Temple. Then they were able to reinstate the sacrificial system and the worship of God. But one of the most amazing acts of spiritual leadership Hezekiah performed was his call to the remnant left in Israel to return to God. He sent messengers all throughout the land of Israel, begging those who had been left to repent and return. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:6 ESV). He reminded them that “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV). Hezekiah not only had a heart for God, but a heart for God’s people – even those who were living in open rebellion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As Hezekiah had told the people of Israel, God is gracious and merciful. He is always willing to forgive. Even after all that the people had done to offend Him, God was still willing to forgive them. He was even willing to pardon those who ate the Passover meal even though they did so in an unworthy manner. It seems that many of the people showed up for the Passover having not properly consecrated themselves. They were ritually impure or unclean. But Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19 ESV). And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and graciously pardoned the people. His concern was the condition of their hearts. Their heartfelt desire to return to Him and worship Him was far more important than whether they had kept the letter of the law. God has always been concerned about the condition of the heart. He had made it clear that adherence to rules and rituals without the heart was worthless. Through the prophet, Isaiah, God had accused the people of Israel of going through the motions. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Many years later, Jesus Himself would say, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). God looks at the heart. He knew the heart of Hezekiah. He could see the hearts of the people. He knew they were sincere and desired to worship Him, even though they may have failed to keep the letter of the law.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was not just a political and military leader. He was a spiritual leader and he took his role seriously. He knew that the health and future well being of the nation was directly linked to their relationship with God. So he lead the people in returning to God. He called them back to a right relationship with the only one who could save them and protect them. But not everyone was willing to follow Hezekiah’s leadership. Many of those living in what was left of the kingdom of Israel refused his invitation to return to the Lord. Even though they had suffered greatly at the hands of the Assyrians and watched as their relatives and friends were taken into captivity, when Hezekiah’s messengers arrived inviting them to the Passover, “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV). But there were those who did accept Hezekiah’s offer and returned to the Lord. Not everything a godly leader does will appear successful. Not everyone will follow. The prophets of God are a perfect illustration of that truth. They faithfully followed the commands of God, telling the people the words of God, but the people would refuse to listen. The people would reject their calls to repent and return. They would ignore their warnings of God’s impending punishment. But the prophets remained faithful to their God-given commission. Paul would command Titus to appoint elders in all the towns and villages where churches had been established. And he gave Titus clear criteria concerning the qualifications of these men. They were to be above reproach, not arrogant, quick-tempered, prone to drunkenness, or greedy. Instead, they were to be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. But more than anything, these men needed to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). God’s people require godly leaders – men who are not afraid to speak the truth of God, boldly and unapologetically. Hezekiah was that kind of man.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The church today is in desperate need of godly leaders. It is filled with complacent and casual Christians who have compromised their faith by growing comfortable with the world. There are many who go through the motions, attending church, even going to Bible studies and other seemingly spiritual activities, but their hearts are far from God. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They remain unrepentant of their sins and their hearts are far from Him. There is a need for godly leaders who will step up and speak out. The people of Judah needed Hezekiah. Had he not lead, the people would have continued to live according the example of Ahaz. Without Hezekiah’s leadership, the priests and Levites would have remained unconsecrated and, therefore, unqualified to serve the people. The doors of the Temple would have remained shut and the sacrificial system unavailable. It took a godly leader to turn things around. I pray that I might be that kind of leader. I pray that God will raise up more men and women like Hezekiah in our day. We need leaders who are more committed to the cause of Christ and the call of God than the applause men.

Father, raise up more godly leaders in our day. The church is in an unhealthy state. There are many who claim to be Your people, who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16 ESV). May You raise up leaders who are unafraid to speak Your truth boldly and call Your people back to You. May our greatest desire be to call the people of God back to a sound faith and a firm commitment to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Kings 19-20, Galatians 6

The Power of Pride.

2 Kings 19-20, Galatians 6

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. – Galatians 6:3 ESV

Pride is a powerful force that can lead a man to great heights. But it can also end in tragedy and destruction. Our own success can be like a powerful drug that causes us to think we are indestructible, unstoppable, and the ultimate determiner of our own destiny. Sennacharib, the King of Assyria had a serious pride problem. He was powerful, successful, and a formidable force in the world in which he lived. He had conquered many nations. He ruled over a powerful nation and led a great army that had won victories over all their enemies. Sennacharib’s pride had resulted in a god-sized ego that led him to believe in his own sovereignty and invincibility. He viewed his victories over all the nations the Assyrians had conquered as personal triumphs over their gods. Now the God of Judah was standing in his way, and he taunted King Hezekiah by saying, “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 19:10 ESV). As far as Sennacharib was concerned, Judah was just another bump in the road to his ultimate conquest of the world. But as the proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV). Sennacharib had a hard lesson to learn concerning pride and humility. He had underestimated God and over-valued his own self-worth. In his eyes, he was a self-made man who was in complete control of his own destiny.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Hezekiah, in response to Sennacharib’s boastful demands for the surrender of Jerusalem, turned to God. He appealed to “the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim” (2 Kings 19:15 ESV). He acknowledged God as the one true God and the creator of all things. He asked God to hear his plea, see their plight and intervene on their behalf. He recognized that Sennacharib had defeated the gods of all the other nations, but “they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone” (2 Kings 19:18 ESV). Hezekiah’s God was different. He was a living, powerful, sovereign God who had made all things, including Sennacharib. And Hezekiah’s God heard his prayer. He responded with a powerful indictment of Sennacharib’s pride and a sobering reminder of His own divine power. While Sennacharib may have envisioned himself as the cause of his own success, God reminded him that nothing could have been further from the truth. God asks, “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass?” (2 Kings 19:25 ESV). Sennacharib’s great victories were God’s doing. He was in complete control, orchestrating the affairs of men in order to accomplish His divine will. The Assyrians were instruments in God’s hands to bring about His sovereign will in the world. Sennacharib was about to learn the hard way that pride does come before destruction. That very night the angel of God would strike down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians, causing Sennacharib to abandon his siege and return home, where he would be murdered by his own sons. This miraculous turn of events should have been a wake-up call to King Hezekiah that his God was in complete control. He should have recognized that his future and fate were in God’s hands. The humiliation of Sennacharib should have resulted in a humble spirit for Hezekiah. But instead, he develops his own pride problem.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was a good king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 8:3 ESV), “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18:5 ESV), and “held fast to the Lord” (2 Kings 18:6 ESV). When faced with the armies of Assyria, he had turned to God for help. He had seen God miraculously deliver Judah from the hands of their enemy without a single arrow having been shot or a solitary spear having been thrown. And when he had become deathly ill and given a less-than-ideal prognosis from the prophet Isaiah, he had turned to God again. God restored him to health and promised him 15 more years of life. Not only that, God promised to defend the city of Jerusalem and deliver it from the hand of the king of Assyria. But sadly, Hezekiah’s response was one of pride. He became cocky and self-confident. He developed an attitude of indestructibility and invulnerability. When envoys from the king of Babylon showed up on his doorstep, Hezekiah took them on a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, showing them “all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13 ESV). Hezekiah showed off. He wanted to impress his guests with a show of superiority, power and success. He wanted to awe them with a display of his own splendor. But Isaiah the prophet was to be the bearer of bad news. He was to remind Hezekiah that pride comes before destruction. “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 20:17-18 ESV). Isaiah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of God into Babylon. Yet, blinded by his own pride and drugged by his own self-centered perspective, Hezekiah responded, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19 ESV). He didn’t care what happened in the future. He wasn’t interested in the long-term ramifications of his behavior. He was consumed with self and solely interested in his own well-being.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It was James who wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6 ESV). God’s grace is available to those who have learned to humble themselves under His sovereign hand. He extends His amazing grace, His unbelievable favor and mercy, to those who understand that they don’t deserve it. But the prideful don’t receive God’s grace. Sennacharib is a perfect example of this truth. His pride resulted in his own death. Hezekiah’s pride would result in the destruction and fall of Jerusalem. He would enjoy peace and security during his lifetime, but he would die knowing that the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah would eventually fall to the armies of the very envoys he had so desperately tried to impress. At the end of the day, we must all come to grips with God’s sovereignty and our own insignificance. Our response to His greatness should be a growing sense of humility. We are nothing compared to Him. We are nothing without Him. Our greatest successes are His doing, not His own. Our petty plans are ridiculous when compared with His divine will. Supposedly, it was Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Hezekiah was right when he said, “You are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (2 Kings 19:15 ESV). But later in life, as he became increasingly more obsessed with his own significance and concerned with his own peace and security, he somehow forgot the fact that God was in control. His petty plans for a safe and secure life took precedence over God’s divine will concerning the people of Judah and the glory of His own name. Pride warped Hezekiah’s perspective and the same can happen to me today.

Father, pride is a powerful force in my own life. I struggle with it daily. I can become so absorbed with my own significance. I want to think that I somehow have control over my life and can impact my own destiny. But help me to see that the safest place for me to be is humbly submitted to Your sovereign will and willingly resigned to Your gracious plan for my life. You alone are God. You alone know what is best. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men