I, the Lord…I Am He

1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
    let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
    let us together draw near for judgment.

Who stirred up one from the east
    whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
    so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

Assyrian domain.jpgIf you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

Babylon's domain.jpgAnd God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time.

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery.

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

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

 

 

You Are God Alone

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.” – Isaiah 37:14-20 ESV

Faced with the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Assyrians, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, had taken the situation directly to God. He had entered the temple to pray and sent his key officials to plead with Isaiah to intercede with God on behalf of the nation. And Isaiah had sent the king a reassuring message from God.

“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.” – Isaiah 37:6 ESV

God promised to save Jerusalem from the threat of Assyrian invasion. King Sennacherib would receive a divinely inspired message that forced him to return home, where he would be assassinated by his own sons. So, God has provided the king of Judah with His personal guarantee that none of the boastful threats of the Assyrian king will come to fruition. Yet, in spite of God’s assurances, King Hezekiah still has the Assyrians camped outside the walls of his city and the threats of the Assyrian emissary ringing in his ears.

“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. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? – Isaiah 37:10-11 ESV

The problem persisted. The enemy was still outside the city walls. And Hezekiah was left with two options: Believe the words of King Sennacherib or those of God Almighty. At this point in the story, that is all he has to go on. The words of a man and the words of His God. One was visible, his power manifested in the sizeable army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. His words were backed by a well-documented reputation for accomplishing what he set out to do.

“Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 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?” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

Hezekiah could see the power of Sennacherib with his own eyes. It was all around him. And it was clear that the forces of Judah were outmanned and ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances facing them.

To make matters worse, Hezekiah’s God was invisible. Yes, the king believed in Him. He even spoke to Him. But he couldn’t see Him. And, unlike the gods of the pagans, there were no statues or figurines representing Yahweh that Hezekiah could turn to for assurance. His God was transcendent and hidden from human view.

But while God was invisible, He was far from unknowable or imperceptible. He had a reputation as well. Yahweh had a long track record of intervening in the affairs of mankind, especially on behalf of His chosen people. From the day He had called Abram out of Ur, God had chosen to reveal Himself in a variety of ways, to reassure His people of His imminence or nearness. He spoke to Abraham audibly and regularly. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a flame of fire and a cloud, leading them across the wilderness for 40 years. And God had repeatedly intervened on behalf of His people, accomplishing great victories on their behalf, even when they faced more formidable foes and insurmountable odds.

Hezekiah was faced with a dilemma familiar to all believers of all times. He could allow the presence of a tangible trial to influence his decision-making, or he could rely on the promises of a God he couldn’t see but who had proven Himself faithful time and time again. And the text tells us that Hezekiah made the right choice. He took his problem to God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord – Isaiah 37:14-15 ESV

He took the enemy’s message to the only one he could trust: God. And he opened his prayer to God with a series of appellations that seemed designed to remind himself of God’s power and distinctiveness.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. – Isaiah 37:16 NLT

He addresses God as the divine warrior-God. He leads the innumerable hosts of heaven, a supernatural army that far surpasses any earthly or human foe, including the Assyrians. He describes God as Israel’s God, a not-so-subtle reminder that God had chosen the nation of Israel as His own. They belonged to Him, and He was responsible for their well-being. Hezekiah goes on to describe God as sitting on a throne, but unlike any earthly throne occupied by a human king. God sits enthroned between cherubim – supernatural, angelic beings who are unlike anything of this earth. This designation of God’s glory and magnitude is borrowed from the psalms.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us! – Psalm 80:1-2 NLT

The Lord is king!
    Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim.
    Let the whole earth quake! – Psalm 99:1 NLT

And Hezekiah acknowledges that Yahweh alone is God of all the kingdoms of the earth, including the kingdom of Assyria. He is sovereign over all. In fact, Hezekiah admits that God created all that exists. He made the heavens and the earth and every living creature. While Sennacherib could brag about his creation of a mighty kingdom, only God could claim the title of Creator. Hezekiah was bringing his problem to the source and the solution of all things.

And Hezekiah begs the great, majestic, transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe to intervene on Judah’s behalf.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. – Isaiah 37:17 ESV

Hezekiah acknowledges that Assyria had successfully defeated the other nations, but only because the gods of those nations were lifeless and impotent. They were fabricated by men and, unlike Yahweh, had no power to save.

For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. – Isaiah 37:19 ESV

False gods provide faulty help in times of trouble. They can’t deliver the necessary aid because they lack the necessary ingredient to do so: Life. But not so with Yahweh. He is alive and well. He is all-powerful and fully capable of providing the hope and help we need in life’s darkest moment. There is no challenge too great. There is no enemy too strong. There is no challenge we will face that is beyond His awareness or outside His ability to provide a solution. So, Hezekiah asks his Sovereign for salvation.

So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord. – Isaiah 37:20 ESV

Selfishly, Hezekiah wants to see Jerusalem saved. But he also wants to see God glorified. And he knows that the seriousness of the situation will require the power of God for any hope of salvation. He longs to see God work so that the nations will see that God is sovereign over all. He wants His God to receive the glory He deserves. And so, he begs God to save. When we trust God to do what only God can do, He alone gets the glory. When we turn to Him as our sole source of help and hope, we get to see Him work, and the world gets to see the one true God in action. Our reliance upon Him gives proof of His reliability. Our trust in Him demonstrates before the world the trustworthiness 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

 

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 Binder of the Broken.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

23 And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, 24 and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 And on every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

27 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar,
    burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;
his lips are full of fury,
    and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
28 his breath is like an overflowing stream
    that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction,
    and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray.

29 You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. 30 And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. 31 The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. 32 And every stroke of the appointed staff that the Lord lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. 33 For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it. – Isaiah 30:18-33 ESV

In the first half of this chapter, God made it quite clear what the people of Judah needed to do if they wanted to escape the coming judgment.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

But, like rebellious children, they had repeatedly refused to listen to the words of God’s prophets; instead, they had turned to false gods and sought help from foreign powers. They truly beleived they could somehow avoid all that God had decreed against them. But God revealed the foolishness behind their arrogant belief in any form of salvation apart from Him. The destruction was going to come, whether they liked it or not. God’s discipline for their sin was going to fall on them no matter what they believed or what they did to escape it.

And yet, in these verses, God lets the people of Judah know that He is patient. In spite of their extreme hubris and blatant disregard for His calls to repent, He would wait.

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
    so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
    Blessed are those who wait for his help. – Isaiah 30:18 NLT

When reading these Old Testament passages that reveal the stubbornness of the people of God, we can easily overlook God’s incredible patience with them. Time and time again, He sent His prophets to warn the people about His anger with them. He repeatedly called them to repent of their sins and come back to Him. Generation after generation of Israelites heard His heart-felt pleas, but had rejected His generous offer of forgiveness if they would only return to Him.

God desired to show them love and compassion. He wanted to fulfill His covenant promises to them. But, because He is a holy God, He could not ignore their sin. It was impossible for Him to turn a blind eye and act as if nothing had happened.

Which is why Isaiah tried, yet again, to persuade the people of Judah to reject their plans to trust in Egypt and, instead, to call out to God.

He will be gracious if you ask for help.
    He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. – Isaiah 30:19 NLT

All they had to do was ask. It was that simple. But perhaps it all sounded too simple the people of Judah. It may have come across as nothing more than wishful thinking. After all, they were facing the threat of invasion by the Assyrians. No one had been able to withstand their army or escape their destruction. Which is what had prompted the people of Judah to cry out to Egypt for help and protection. But what they failed to realize was that their predicament was the direct result of their disobedience to God. He is the one who had sent the Assyrians. And He would be the one to send the Babylonians long after the Assyrians had returned home.

What God’s people failed to understand was that their suffering was His doing. It was He who had given them “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). But all for good reason. First, it was to punish them for their blatant rejection of Him. But secondly, it was to teach them to trust Him and Him alone. While they were going to suffer greatly because of their sin, He was not going to abandon them. In fact, Isaiah promises them, “your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). There would be a period of divine punishment, marked by adversity and affliction, but followed by restoration.

This promise was partially fulfilled when God arranged for the people of Judah to return to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Because the nation of Judah would remain stubborn and refuse to call out to God for help, He would allow them to be defeated by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The city of Jerusalem was be ransacked and plundered, the temple would be destroyed, and many of the people would be taken back to Babylon as prisoners. But after 70 years, in keeping with God’s promise, He would allow a remnant to return to the land, in order to rebuild the city, its walls and gates, and reconstruct the temple. And, once the temple was completed, they could institute the sacrificial system after seven decades marked by no atonement for sin.

And yet, there are aspects of this divine promise that have yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah goes on to tell them, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV). This seems to paint an image of a restored relationship with God that features obedience on the part of the people, because Isaiah goes on to describe them destroying all their idols and icons to false gods. It is a picture of national renewal and revival like nothing ever seen in Judah before or to this very day.

In verses 23-24, Isaiah describes what must be a future day, when God will bless them not only spiritually, but physically.

And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork.

This is a description of God’s gracious provision for all their needs, from consistent rain and abundant produce to rich pasturelands where their flocks would grow fat on green grass. But notice the seemingly out-of-place reference to “the day of the great slaughter” found in the very next verse. This statement provides us with insight into the fact that all of these images are linked to a future day in time and history that has yet to have happened. Isaiah is referencing the end times, when Jesus Christ will return a second time and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John was given a vision of this yet-future day.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

John is describing the great battle of Armegeddon. And after that event takes place, Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem from which He will reign for 1,000 years. It will be during that time that a remnant of Jews who will be redeemed during the seven years of the Tribulation, will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s righteous reign on earth. It will be a time of great abundance. It will be marked by peace and joy, and a complete lack of sorrow or tears. Even the light of the moon and sun will be enhanced. There will be abundant water in a land where water was often scarce and drought a constant reality.

But in the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah shifts the focus from the distant future to the more immediate concerns of the people of Judah. He describes what God is going to do for them regarding the threat of Assyria. The people of Judah have no reason to fear, because God was going to take care of their enemies.

The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. – Isaiah 30:31 ESV

Whether we focus on the more immediate context or the distant future, we can see the hand of God at work. He is in control of anything and everything. He is sovereign and He has a plan in store for the world, His people Israel, and the church. We have nothing to fear and every reason to rest in His promise to bind up the brokenness of his people.

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

Keys to the Kingdom.

15 Thus says the Lord God of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you 18 and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. There you shall die, and there shall be your glorious chariots, you shame of your master’s house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 22:15-25 ESV

In this portion of the oracle against Jerusalem, attention is focused on two individuals, Shebna and Eliakim, whom God will use as human representations of Jerusalem’s problem. Shebna was the official secretary to the king. In a sense, he was the second most powerful man in the kingdom, acting in a role similar to that of secretary of state. Evidently, Shebna had used his influential position to amass for himself great wealth and prestige. He had even made plans to build an opulent tomb to memorialize himself after his death. While the people of Judah were worrying about how they were going to survive the threat of an Assyrian invasion, Shebna was focused on his legacy.

But God had other plans for Shebna. This egotistical and self-obsessed man was warned by God that his position was in jeopardy and that his tomb would never be occupied, at least not by him.

For the Lord is about to hurl you away, mighty man.
    He is going to grab you,
crumple you into a ball,
    and toss you away into a distant, barren land.
There you will die… – Isaiah 22:17-18 NLT

There is no doubt that Shebna was a powerful and influential man, but he was no match for God. He had used his access to the king to line his own pockets and build his own reputation. His love of self had long ago replaced his love for God and the people of Judah. Isaiah refers to Shebna as a shame to his master’s house. He had become a disgrace to his position as the royal administrator to the king of Judah, and God was going to replace him.

“Yes, I will drive you out of office,” says the Lord. “I will pull you down from your high position. And then I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah to replace you.” – Isaiah 22:19-20 NLT

We know from chapters 36 and 37 that both of these men served in the administration of King Hezekiah. In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invaded Judah and sent an emissary to Jerusalem with a warning that the king surrender the city or face annihilation. The text tells us that Hezekiah sent two men to meet with Sennacherib’s spokesman.

And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary… – Isaiah 36:1 ESV

These two men both served the king and enjoyed unprecedented influence over his affairs. But God warned Shebna that the day was coming when only Eliakim would remain, and he would step into the role from which Shebna would be forcibly removed by God.

The real point in all of this is not the fates of these two men, but the future well-being of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Shebna had been obsessed with his own personal well-being, in the form of material wealth, power, and status. He had used his royal position to further his own agenda. But God was concerned about the future state of His people. Which is why He was going to remove Shebna and replace him with Eliakim.

“I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court.” – Isaiah 22:21-22 NLT

God knew the hearts of both men and saw in Eliakim a radically different disposition. Unlike Shebna, Eliakim would be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. He would be selfless, not self-obsessed. He would use his influence over the king to improve the nation’s welfare, not his own. And God mentions that He will give Eliakim the key to the house of David. As the personal secretary to the king, he would have unprecedented power and authority. He would hold the keys to the kingdom in his hand, acting as a representative of the king himself. And God knew that He could trust Eliakim to use his representative authority wisely and with the best interests of the king and the people in mind.

Jesus used this concept of the keys to the kingdom on several occasions. The first was when He blessed Peter for having acknowledged Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Jesus told Peter:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:19 ESV

In due time, after His death and resurrection, Jesus would pass on His royal authority as King to His disciples. They would serve as His representatives on earth, acting as His emissaries with full access to His authority as King. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus referenced the keys of the kingdom again. This time it followed a discussion He had with the disciples regarding sin within the body of Christ. Jesus warned that if a brother or sister in Christ commits a sin against a fellow believer and when confronted, refuses to repent, He is to be removed from the fellowship and treated as an unbeliever. And Jesus followed this teaching with the assurance:

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 18:18 ESV

Again, in the scenario, Jesus described, He was letting the disciples know that they had authority to act on His behalf. He was entrusting His power as King to them.

And back in Isaiah, God was stating that any kingly authority Shebna enjoyed was going to be removed and given to Eliakim. Why? Because Shebna had abused his access to the keys to the kingdom. He had misused his authority.

And while Eliakim would prove to be a much more faithful steward of the responsibilities placed upon him, he too would eventually fail. Yes, for a time, Eliakim would exhibit the characteristics of a reliable and trustworthy steward, and God would use him.

“He will bring honor to his family name, for I will drive him firmly in place like a nail in the wall.” – Isaiah 22:23 NLT

But no man can live up to the standard required by God. In fact, no man was ever meant to replace God as the keeper of the keys to the kingdom. Even faithful Eliakim would prove unable to live up to the task handed to him by God.

“The time will come when I will pull out the nail that seemed so firm. It will come out and fall to the ground. Everything it supports will fall with it. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 22:25 NLT

God knew that the people of Judah were prone to put their faith in men. He was well aware that their natural tendency was to trust in anything and everyone but Him. So, God would one day remove Eliakim to further expose the peoples’ ill-placed hope in man.

But this brings to mind yet another reference concerning the key of David, the keys to the kingdom. It is found in the last book of the Bible. Once again, it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself, who introduces Himself to the church in Philadelphia with the following description:

“The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” – Revelation 3:7 ESV

Jesus is the King. He is the one who holds the key of David. He is the fulfillment of the promise made by God to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

Eliakim would enjoy the privilege and responsibility of wielding the key of David for a time. The disciples too were given the unique privilege of acting as Christ’s representatives on earth, stewarding His power and authority as they spread the good news of salvation. And every other follower of Christ who has ever lived has been given the keys to the Kingdom, the supernatural power of God, made ours through the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Son of God.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

It is faith in God that matters. It is the power of God as displayed in the Son of God that gives us hope. Our faith is to be in Him, not man. Our hope is to remain focused on what He has done, and He will do.

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

False Help and Hope.

1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20:1-6 ESV

Map-of-Assyrian-Expansion.jpgAs has already been stated, this whole section of the book of Isaiah is designed to expose the futility of Judah placing their hope in other nations. Faced with formidable foes threatening to destroy them, the people of Judah were quick to turn to other nations for assistance. Their first line of defense was to make an alliance with a pagan nation like Egypt or Cush.  They had even considered aligning themselves with the Assyrians. But God wanted them to know that He alone was to be their source of safety and security. They had long ago abandoned Him, turning to the false gods of the nations around them and even when faced with His divine judgment in the form of foreign invaders, they remained obstinate, refusing to repent and turn to Him. They thought they could evade and escape His punishment by placing their fate in the hands of a foreign king.

And yet, they watched as, one by one, other nations and cities fell before the unrelenting power of the Assyrian army, including the city of Ashdod. Ashdod was the northern-most Philistine city, located only 35 miles to the west of Jerusalem and, in 713 BC, its king, Ahimiti, had decided to rebel against the the Assyrians, prompted by the promise of aid from the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Ahimiti was replaced by the Assyrians. When the people of Ashdod continued to rebel, the King Sargon II turned the city into an Assyrian province. And the Egyptians never lifted a finger to help them. In fact, the people of Ashdod had pleaded for help from Judah, Moab and Edom, but none ever materialized.

At the time of the fall of Ashdod, God gave Isaiah a strange assignment. He told him to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet” (Isaiah 20:2 ESV). He was to remove his outer garment as well as his shoes and the text says, “he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” But before we jump to conclusions and assume that Isaiah was being forced by God to expose himself to all those around them, it is important to know that the Hebrews word translated as “naked” is`arowm and can refer to complete or partial nudity. In many cases it was used to refer to someone who had taken off their outer garment, only to reveal their tunic or undergarment. It seems unlikely that God would have required Isaiah to expose himself completely. But, in demanding that Isaiah strip down to his undergarments and walk the streets of Jerusalem, God would have been demonstrating the shame that Judah would soon experience. Isaiah’s condition would provide a visual demonstration of the humiliation and shame coming to all the nations on Judah’s list of potential allies. Like someone stripped of his possessions by thieves, Isaiah would be a walking reminder of the fate of Judah’s false saviors. And he would do this for three long years.

But Isaiah’s three-year-long dramatic display was intended to send a message to the people of Judah. God wanted them to know that their refusal to place their trust in Him would prove to be a poor decision.

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” –  Isaiah 20:3-4 ESV

They Egyptians and Cushites would fall, just as the city of Ashdod did. Their people would be led away, their fine garments and sandals removed, looking more like slaves than the citizens of a once-powerful nation. While Isaiah’s dramatic performance was nothing more than theater in the round, what God describes as happening to the people of Egypt and Cush will be real and not an act.

And God reveals that it will be only then, as their two allies are led away as captives, that people of Judah “shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast” (Isaiah 20:5 ESV). It is going to take the fall of these two nations to bring the people of Judah to the point of brokenness. The two Hebrew words used to describe their emotional state at that time are chathath and buwsh, and they paint a picture of confusion, fear and loss of hope. They will have placed all their hope and trust in these two nations, believing that they would be the ones to protect them from their enemies. But their hopes will be dashed when their allies fall.

Isaiah is told to warn the people that when this prophecy takes place, it will leave them wondering what happened. It will leave them in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?” – Isaiah 20:6 ESV

And in 701 BC, God’s warning came to fruition. The Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekeh, leaving the people of Judah were left without help or hope. Or so they thought. But God was there. He always had been. And God was ready to help them, to provide them with hope in the midst of the darkness and despair surrounding them. But they would have to turn to Him. They would have to place their trust in Him. And later on in this same book, Isaiah describes the goodness and greatness of the God who stood ready to assist those who will call out to Him in their time of need.

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 40:29-31 ESV

God possesses power greater than that of any nation. And He offers that power to those who find themselves suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual weakness. But He requires that we wait on Him. That means we must allow Him to operate on His time schedule, not ours. We must not allow our impatience with His seeming delays to tempt us to turn to other forms of help. The key to enjoying the benefits of God’s strength is learning to trust His timing. Notice that those described in this passage are faint, lacking in strength, weary, and exhausted. They can’t take another step. They are on their last legs. In other words, they have come to an end of their own strength. And it is at that very moment, that we tend to start looking for outside sources of strength. But will we turn to God? Will we wait on Him? Will we place all our hope in His ability to provide the very help we need? God calls out to us as He did to the people of Judah.

“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV

He is our help and our hope.

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

Fear God, Not Man.

11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:11-22 ESV

Like any prophet of God, the greatest danger Isaiah faced was compromise. He had been commissioned by God to speak truth and deliver what would be a very unpopular message to a very stubborn people. They were not going to accept what he had to say and he would find himself facing intense opposition. Isaiah would soon discover that he was a lone voice, crying in the spiritual wilderness of the city of Jerusalem. So, God warns him “not to walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11 ESV). He had been called to walk a different path. But he would face the constant temptation to soften the message given to him by God in order to find acceptance among the people. If he was not careful, he would end up telling them what they wanted to hear, rather than what God had told him to say. And God was very specific in His warning to Isaiah.

“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
    and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.” – Isaiah 8:12 NLT

The Hebrew word translated as “conspiracy” is qesher and can also refer to “an alliance.” But it refers particularly to an unlawful alliance. If you recall, there had been an alliance made between the northern kingdom of Israel and the Syrians. These two nations had joined forces with the intention of conquering Judah. In their fear, the people of Judah, under the leadership of Ahaz, had made their own alliance with the Assyrians. Rather than trust God, they had chosen to put their hopes in a pagan nation. And God has already warned Ahaz that his unlawful alliance would prove to be disastrous.

Now God is warning Isaiah not to allow fear to cloud his thinking. He is not to see things the way the people do. Their fear of Israel and Syria was driving their behavior and influencing their decision making. And they had determined that the only solution to their problem was an unlawful alliance with Assyria. If Isaiah was not careful, he could easily find himself swayed by the fears of the people and placing his hope in something or someone other than God. But God strongly warns Isaiah not to let this happen.

“Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
    He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
    He will keep you safe.” – Isaiah 18:13-14 NLT

Isaiah was to fear God, not man. He was to put his hope and trust in God Almighty, not an unlawful alliance with a pagan nation that would prove to be no match for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And, as far as Israel and Judah were concerned, God had their fate already planned out.

“But to Israel and Judah
    he will be a stone that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem
    he will be a trap and a snare.
Many will stumble and fall,
    never to rise again.
    They will be snared and captured.” – Isaiah 8:14-15 NLT

Ahaz and the people of Judah feared the Israelites and the Syrians more than they feared God. And in doing so, they had failed to regard God as holy. They had refused to believe that He alone could keep them safe. As a result, they had allowed their fear of man to trump their fear of God. Now, the God who could have saved them, would be the God would cause them to fall. Because they had refused to see God as their sole source of safety and refuge, He would become a trap and a snare to them.

But Isaiah was to maintain his trust in God, no matter what happened. And when he discovered that the leadership and the people of the nation had rejected his message, Isaiah determined to take it to as many faithful followers of Yahweh as he could find. And Isaiah, having heard the warning from God, boldly claims his intention to remain faithful.

“I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” – Isaiah 8:17 ESV

Yet God knew that Isaiah’s commitment to remain faithful to Him was going to be constantly challenged. The people around him, even his own disciples, would eventually tempt him to turn to something other than God in order to gain insight and help.

“Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” – Isaiah 8:19 NLT

In their desperation, people will seek guidance from the dead, rather than turn to God. They will resort to witchcraft and sorcery. In a sense, they will make another unlawful alliance with the occult. Yet Isaiah is encouraged to “Look to God’s instructions and teachings,” because all those who “who contradict his word are completely in the dark” (Isaiah 8:20 NLT). And, not surprisingly, when the people fail to get the answers they are seeking from the unlawful alliances they have made, they will curse God. When they find themselves weary and hungry, they will blame their king and their God. Rather than take personal responsibility for their circumstance, they will find a convenient scapegoat. But everywhere they look, they will see “trouble and anguish and dark despair” (Isaiah 8:22 NLT).

Failure to fear God is costly. It has severe ramifications. Their future circumstances were directly tied to their refusal to place their hope and trust in God. Their decision to make unlawful alliances with the ungodly and unrighteous was going to result in undesirable consequences. But, through it all, Isaiah was to remain faithfully fearful of God. He was to keep on trusting even when everyone around him was abandoning ship. They would find themselves in a state of spiritual darkness. But there is good news and it comes in the very next chapter. In spite of Judah’s rebellion against Him, they would experience His grace and mercy. He would one day penetrate the darkness of their lives with “a great light” (Isaiah 9:2 ESV). But more on that tomorrow.  

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 Battle Lines Are Drawn.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. –  Matthew 21:14-17 ESV

tissot-he-heals-the-lame-in-the-temple-740x545After having cleansed His Father’s house, Jesus proceeded to return it to its rightful status as a place of healing and hope. When Solomon had prayed the prayer of dedication over the original temple, he had asked of God, “listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 ESV). Solomon deeply desired that the magnificent building he had constructed would be a place where God’s presence dwelt and where those who approached God in humility could find forgiveness and restoration. Which is why he had prayed, “whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)” (1 Kings 8:37-39 ESV).

With His cleansing of the temple, Jesus had made the temple a place of prayer once again. As He walked through its courtyards, the crowds came to Him, the blind and the lame somehow made their way to Him. And Matthew simply states, “He healed them.” And these would be the last healings Jesus would perform in His earthly ministry. Here in His Father’s house, he was extending mercy and grace to those who come to Him with their physical afflictions. And, as Solomon had prayed, Jesus, who knows the hearts of all the children of mankind, saw past their physical infirmities and longed to restore their more serious spiritual condition. Which is why, within days, He would offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

But the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees speaks volumes. Matthew states that when these men saw “saw the wonderful things that he did,” they became indignant. The Greek word translated as “wonderful” refers to something miraculous or marvelous, and worthy of admiration. But instead, these men were filled with indignation or displeasure. The were appalled, not awed. Rather than rendering worship to God for what they were seeing, they reacted with anger. They were offended by the shouts of the children who were declaring, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And they asked Jesus if He was hearing what the children were saying.

And Jesus calmly responded to them, quoting from one of the psalms, of which they would have been familiar.

You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you. – Psalm 8:2 NLT

Earlier, when Jesus had first entered Jerusalem, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). And the Pharisees had demanded the Jesus rebuke them. But Jesus had told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV). The reality of Jesus’ identity was going to be revealed one way or the other. And now, the children were crying out and declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. These innocent, humble children saw what the well-educated, religious leaders could not see.

These men were not stupid. They could see that much of what was taking place around them was further proof of Jesus’ Messiahship. But they refused to admit it or accept it. The shouts of the children were a verbal confirmation, echoing the sentiments of the crowds surrounding Jesus. But the scribes and Pharisees remained stubbornly opposed to Jesus, and blind to the evidence taking place all around them. And yet, they could sense the tide was turning. They were losing control. The influence of Jesus was increasing with each passing day. And as it did, their anger grew and their desperation to do something about this threat to their power and influence escalated dramatically.

There is a spiritual battle taking place behind this somewhat idyllic scene. We picture Jesus healing the lame and the blind. In our mind’s ear, we hear the praises of the children. But behind this peaceful and harmonious scene lie the wreckage and confusion left by Jesus as a result of his angry assault on the moneychangers and vendors He had found in the court of the Gentiles. Among the overturned tables and amidst the bleating sheep and bellowing oxen, there were vendors trying to restore order to their once lucrative booths. And there, lurking in the dark corners, were the religious leaders of Israel, shaking their heads in indignation and disgust. Jesus had once again disrupted the status quo. He had invaded their turf and rocked their religious world. And behind these men stood the prince of this world, Satan himself. He saw Jesus as a threat to his rule and reign, and was willing to do anything to eliminate Him.

Jesus, in a last display of His divine powers, healed the blind and the lame. Satan, in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the plans of God, would use his influence over the spiritually blind and those sickened by sin, to turn them against the Messiah. The forces of wickedness were gathering against the Son of God. The battle for the souls of mankind was about to take place. And here, in the temple courtyard, we see the primary participants in this epic struggle gathering for what will be a spiritual showdown in the city of Jerusalem.

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

An Unlikely Salvation.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

One of the unique attributes of the genealogical record provided by Matthew is the inclusion of the names of several significant women. Included are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). – Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NET

Each of these women play an important role in the history of the nation of Israel. And because Matthew began his list with the name of Abraham instead of Adam, as Luke did, it is clear that Abraham was only interested in establishing the Jewish heritage of Jesus. It is quite significant that these four women are included because the Jewish people usually traced their lineage through their male ancestors. And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include these four particular women for their role in the birth of the Messiah. The first mentioned is Tamar, who had been married to Perez. This woman adds an interesting story line to the lineage of Jesus. According to the book of Genesis, Tamar had been by Judah to one of his sons as a wife.

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. – Genesis 38:6-10 ESV

At this point, Judah promised to make Tamar the wife of his next son, Shelah, but he was too young. So, he asked Tamar to remain in his house as a widow until his son was of age. But he had no intention of making her his wife because he feared he might lose a third son. So, he left her as a widow in his home. Tamar, frustrated by her status as damaged goods, twice a widow and therefore an unattractive prospect for marriage, was desperate. She had no husband, and no recourse for pleading her case. In that culture, as a woman, she was little more than property. But God had plans for her. Judah, after having mourned the death of his wife, had sexual relations with Tamar, mistaking her for a temple prostitute. She became pregnant as a result. And when her pregnancy became known and she was accused of immorality and condemned to die, she revealed that the father was none other than her own father-in-law, Judah. Sensing his own sin in the affair, Judah responded:

“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 ESV

This twice-widowed and all-but-forgotten woman would become the mother of Perez, whose name would show up in the lineage of the Messiah. And her name is included again in another Old Testament book that bears the name of the second woman in our list.

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Boaz was taking a young Moabite woman to be his wife. She too, was a widow and was living in the land of Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz, acting in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, was rescuing this young woman from a life of destitution and degradation. She, like Tamar, was a helpless widow who had no one to stand up for her and no hope for the future. She was childless and an unattractive prospect as a wife. But Boaz redeemed her, married her and she bore to him a son named Obed. And Boaz himself had been born to a woman named Rahab. She is the same woman listed in the book of Joshua and described as a prostitute. She was a pagan, a non-Jew who hid the two men whom Joshua had sent to spy out the city of Jericho. Because of her willingness to risk her own life by protecting the two spies, Rahab and her family were spared when the city of Jericho was destroyed. And she, a pagan and a prostitute, became the mother of Boaz.

The final woman mentioned in the list is Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah. Her story is a particularly sordid one, involving the great king, David, who had an affair with her. She was a married woman and, when she became pregnant, David had her husband murdered, in an attempt to cover his sin and legally take her as his wife. But their sin resulted in the death of their infant son. But God would replace the son He had taken with another son, Solomon, who would go on to become David’s heir to the throne of Israel.

Of these four women, two were Canaanites, one was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. So, they were all non-Jews. And three of the four were marred by sin. And yet, God chose to include these women, not only in the list, but in the actual lineage of the Messiah. The line of Jesus the Messiah is not filled with perfect people who lived sinless lives, but with men and women who were flawed by sin and in desperate need of a Savior. Out of the mar and mess of their lives, God brought a sinless Savior who would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because God, in His grace, had decreed it.

And it’s interesting to note that even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was accused of immorality because she became pregnant while still betrothed to Joseph.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19 ESV

This young, unknown Jewish girl, had her life rocked. She was chosen by God to bear the Son of God. And her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy made her a target for abuse and the cause of Joseph’s plan to call off the marriage. She would have become a social outcast and undesirable as a wife. And yet, God was at work in her life, calling her to be the one woman who would bear His Son and make possible the salvation of the world.

God intervened, assuring Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of His plan.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 ESV

God’s plan was far bigger than anything Joseph had ever imagined. Mary’s pregnancy was far from a mistake or the result of sin. It was the work of God Almighty. And the Son she was to bear was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God was going to take on human flesh and live among men. Through the lives of sinful women like Rahab and Bathsheba, God would bring a Savior who would take away the sins of the world. Through the lives of hopeless, helpless women like Ruth and Tamar, God would bring the hope of the world. And they would call Him Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Through the most unlikely of people and the most unbelievable circumstances – a virgin birth – the Savior of the world came to dwell among men and women. God came to earth and salvation came to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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