When Circumstances Cause Our Faith to Stumble

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:18-23 ESV

All the while Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and performing miracles, John the Baptist was locked in a dungeon, the prisoner of Herod Antipas. John had gotten himself in hot water with the Tetrarch of Galilee for having boldly confronted him about his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife.

Herod had arrested and imprisoned John as a favor to his wife Herodias (the former wife of Herod’s brother Philip). John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:3-5 NLT

During his imprisonment, John’s disciples had been keeping up with the activities of Jesus and relaying to their master all that they had seen and heard. Evidently, they had been in Nain when Jesus raised the dead man back to life and they delivered a full report on this unprecedented miracle to John. They probably included the reactions of the crowd.

“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” – Luke 7:16 ESV

But this news left John in conflict. He had clearly believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. He had declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). After his baptism of Jesus, John had confidently proclaimed, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 ESV). Yet, now John found himself locked in a prison cell and he must have wondered about the prophetic promises regarding the coming Messiah. He had plenty of time to think about how his own circumstances seemed to contradict what Isaiah had said would happen when the Messiah appeared in Israel.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. – Isaiah 61:1 ESV

As John looked around at his less-than-ideal surroundings he must have begun to have second thoughts about Jesus’ identity. During his confinement, he had become conflicted and his former confidence in who Jesus was had begun to weaken. At one point, John had boldly proclaimed his unwavering belief in Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God.

“I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” – John 3:28-36 ESV

But as John languished in prison, his certainty was shaken. So, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus with a message.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” – Luke 7:19 ESV

You can sense John’s confusion and concern. He is not denying the supernatural nature of Jesus’ miracles. But he is simply trying to reconcile what he has been told about Jesus’ activities with what he had been expecting of the Messiah. There was little doubt that Jesus had been doing Messianic-like miracles. He had fulfilled all of the prophetic predictions concerning the anointed one of God.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness. – Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV

It is easy to understand John’s conflicted state. While he knew that his role would greatly diminish with the coming of the Messiah, he had never considered that it would include his imprisonment. Like every other Jew, John was looking for a Messiah who was going to re-establish the David dynasty and return Israel to power and prominence. John was looking for the Kingdom of God on earth. And while Jesus’ miracles were impressive and provided undeniable evidence of God’s power, John seems to have been waiting for proof that Jesus was the Warrior-King who would put an end to Roman rule and reinvigorate the fortunes of God’s chosen people.

Luke indicates that when John’s disciples arrived and delivered his question to Jesus, they were treated to a demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power.

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. – Luke 7:21 NLT

Jesus seemed to be answering John’s question with visible, tangible proof. But just to make sure that the two disciples of John understood what they had seen, Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22 NLT).

Jesus provides John with a list of miracles He had performed that clearly demonstrate His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. All of these things were meant to provide evidence of His Messianic role. But it seems clear that John had been looking for something more. He had a clear expectation that the Messiah would come in judgment, delivering the wrath of God against the enemies of Israel. But Jesus would later clarify the nature of His first advent.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

Like most Jews of his day, John had conflated the predictions concerning the Messiah’s first and second comings. He had been expecting Jesus’ miracles to be followed up by military action against the Roman occupiers of Israel. He had been hoping that Jesus would use His growing popularity among the people and His divine power to lead an insurrection that would finally put an end to Israel’s misery.

But Jesus encouraged John to remain patient and not lose hope.

“…blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Luke 7:23 ESV

Jesus could sense that John was beginning to have doubts. So, He encouraged Him not to be offended by what he saw. The Greek word translated as “offended” is skandalizō, which carries the idea of stumbling over a rock or impediment. John was not to allow his unfulfilled expectations concerning the Messiah to trip him up. Jesus was fully aware of John’s predicament and most likely knew that John would never leave the prison alive. But He did not want John to lose heart. John was allowing his personal circumstances to determine his belief in the Messiah. And Jesus was encouraging him to do just the opposite. John was to examine his circumstances based on the clear evidence of Jesus’ Messianic power and authority. No, John had not personally experienced deliverance from the dungeon in which he was imprisoned but that did not negate the fact that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Not every lame person in Israel had been healed. Not every blind person had received sight. There were still countless people suffering from deafness and leprosy. And it’s unlikely that John was the only occupant of Herod’s prison.

Jesus was not yet done. His ministry had just begun. And all those who would continue to believe would not be disappointed. In fact, they would be blessed. In time, they would find that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. But for now, they were going to have to trust and believe, regardless of the circumstances.

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 Light Was Dawning

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:67-80 ESV

Zechariah, no longer hampered by his temporary bout of deafness and muteness, reacts to the miraculous birth of his son by composing a song of praise to God. But this is far more than a song of gratitude for God’s gracious act of replacing Elizabeth’s barrenness with fruitfulness. Whether he realized it or not, Zechariah was revealing Spirit-inspired truths regarding the coming Messiah.

Filled with and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was given special insight into the plan of redemption God was about to unveil to His chosen people. With the Spirit’s assistance, Zechariah was able to clearly see God’s hand behind all that was happening, and he pronounces a blessing on God for His covenant faithfulness.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people…” – Luke 1:68 ESV

The Messiah had not yet been born but Zechariah knew that His arrival was imminent. God’s promise to raise up “a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:69 ESV) was as good as done. The days of darkness that surrounded the people of Israel were about to be permeated by the light of God in the form of the Messiah, the promised and long-awaited descendant of King David.

As a priest, Zechariah would have been intimately familiar with all the prophetic passages regarding the coming of the servant of God. And with the Spirit’s assistance, he was able to see that God was preparing to fulfill each of those prophecies in his own lifetime. For more than 400 years, the people of Israel had endured a deafening silence, as God had chosen to cut off all communication with His people. He had sent no more prophets. There had been no divine calls to repentance. And while a remnant of the people had returned from exile in the land of Babylon, rebuilt the temple, refurbished the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulated the city, the land was marked by a lingering spiritual darkness.

Ever since the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the nation of Israel had been without a king and had suffered a series of degrading occupations by foreign military powers. Even as Zechariah composed his song of praise, the land of Judah was filled with Roman legionnaires, and the people of Israel were having to endure the oppressive and humiliating presence of the Roman emperor’s powerful representatives. With no army to defend them and no king to lead them, the Israelites were powerless to do anything about their demoralizing situation.

But Zechariah knew that God had promised to one day save His people. The prophets had declared “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:71 ESV), and now it was all about to happen. God had sworn an oath to Abraham “that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.” (Luke 1:74-75 NLT). For Zechariah, this was all like a dream come true. The days of waiting were over. The long delay was about to end. The Messiah was finally coming, and He would bring deliverance and redemption for the people of God.

And Zechariah was blown away that his newborn son would play a role in this divine redemptive plan for the nation. He even addresses his infant son, disclosing the vital part God had preordained for him.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…” – Luke 1:76 ESV

Once again, Zechariah has the words of the prophets in mind. It is likely that he was thinking of the prophecy of Malachi, written some four centuries earlier.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

You can sense Zechariah’s excitement as he considers the prospects that lie ahead. He probably considered the words of the prophet Isaiah, and inherently knew that the time for rejoicing had come.

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God.” – Isaiah 40:1-3 NLT

Like any father, Zechariah was proud and pleased that his son had been hand-picked by God for this essential assignment. And, as a priest, he was blown away by God’s loving and gracious decision to redeem His people. Despite centuries of rebellion and rejection by His people, God was still willing to keep His covenant commitments. Motivated by His tender mercy, God was still offering them salvation and forgiveness of sins. He was sending His Son as the ultimate means of redemption and restoration. And Zechariah’s son would prepare the way for this darkness-shattering, life-transforming Servant of God.

And Zechariah wraps up his song with a poetic description of the Light of the world.

“…the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:78-79 NLT

And the apostle John would use similar words to open his gospel account.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

And the apostle would go on to describe and differentiate the unique role that Zechariah’s son would play.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John  1:6-8 ESV

When Zechariah’s son had grown to full manhood, he would begin his earthly, yet heavenly sanctioned ministry. He would declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. He would let the people know that heaven had invaded earth in the form of the life-giving light of God.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… – John 1:9-12 ESV

Zechariah was excited about the birth of his son, but he was even more energized about the fact that his son would be used by God to fulfill His long-standing covenant promises. The words of the prophets were about to come true, in Zechariah’s lifetime and, in part, through Zechariah’s seed.

The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious….

In earlier times he humiliated
the land of Zebulun,
and the land of Naphtali;
but now he brings honor
to the way of the sea,
the region beyond the Jordan,
and Galilee of the nations.
The people walking in darkness
see a bright light;
light shines
on those who live in a land of deep darkness. – Isaiah 9:1-2 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The King Has Come

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45 ESV

Before we look at Mary’s impromptu trip to visit Elizabeth, it’s essential that we notice an important point of contrast that Luke has established. He began his gospel account with a brief but significant mention of Herod’s kingship over Judea (Luke 1:5). But when Gabriel delivered his message to Mary that she had been chosen to bear and give birth to the Son of God, he had told her what the child’s name and mission would be.

“…you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

Her son was going to be the Messiah of Israel of whom the prophets had spoken and for whom the people of Israel had long been waiting. And when He arrived, He would become the true and rightful King of Israel.

The message Gabriel delivered to Mary seems to have been based on the words of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

Mary would have recognized the connection between Gabriel’s words and the prophetic pronouncement of Isaiah. Part of the reason for Mary’s willing acceptance of the angel’s bizarre news was that she was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and what they promised about the coming Messiah. Isaiah had also prophesied regarding the Messiah’s miraculous birth to a virgin.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The Messiah’s very name would signify His divine mission and identity. In Hebrew, Immanuel means “God with us.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would become pregnant with the Son of God and, with His birth, God would come to dwell with men. It would be just as John the apostle described it in the beginning of his gospel account.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

But Jesus would enter the world as King. Though His mother would be an obscure and seemingly unimportant Jewish girl, and His birthplace would be the insignificant town of Bethlehem, Jesus would arrive on the scene as the rightful heir to the throne of David. And the prophet Isaiah had predicted that fact as well.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

While Mary had been shocked by the news she received from Gabriel, she was also overjoyed because she understood the significance of all that he had told her. She had been selected to give birth to Immanuel, the Son of God. God had graciously chosen her to be the means by which the long-awaited Messiah made His entrance into the world. Israel was finally going to have a real King, not some puppet potentate who served the Romans and wasn’t even a descendant of David.

And this exciting reality drove Mary to make the arduous journey to the hill country of Judah to see her cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel had informed Mary about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.

“…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:36 ESV

Mary sensed that God’s sovereign hand was behind all that was going on, but she still had to wrestle with the fact that she was about to be an unmarried pregnant woman in a culture that would consider that condition a crime and not cause for celebration. At this point, she had to be thinking about how Joseph would react when he heard the news that she was pregnant. Would he believe her story? Or would he break off their betrothal in a fit of rage? All of these conflicting questions had to have coursed through Mary’s young mind as she made her way to Judah.

But Mary’s unsettled heart would soon find comfort in the words of Elizabeth. As soon as Mary walked into Elizabeth’s home and stated her name, another miracle of confirmation took place.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?” – Luke 1:41-43 NLT

Anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given divine insight into her cousin’s unique role as the mother of the Messiah. There is no way that Elizabeth could have known this information. It was clearly the inspiration of the Spirit that provided her with the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy and the unique identity of the baby in her womb.

Elizabeth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, was uttering prophetic words concerning her younger cousin. She was being provided with divine insight into Mary’s situation that could only have come from the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. And she pronounced a blessing on Mary for her willingness to believe the words of Gabriel.

“…blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:45 NLT

This was a word from God, spoken through Elizabeth. The Almighty was using Elizabeth as His vessel to communicate His pleasure with Mary’s faith. Despite the sudden and shocking nature of the news she had received, Mary had believed. Her very presence at Elizabeth’s home was proof. She had gone there to share the news with her relative, but before she even had a chance to say a word, God used Elizabeth and the baby in her womb to confirm the message and commend Mary’s faith. The baby leaped, Elizabeth blessed, and Mary was encouraged.

At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responded in joy. John, as yet unborn, had been commissioned by God to be the one to herald the coming of the Messiah. Even in his prenatal state, John took his God-given assignment seriously, rejoicing in the arrival of the King. His divinely inspired celebration in the womb served as further proof to Mary that everything Gabriel had said was true.

And Mary’s response to it all took the form of a divinely inspired song – a psalm of thanksgiving and praise.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Compassionate, Merciful God

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. – Hosea 11:8-11 ESV

One of the problems we face as fallen human beings is trying to comprehend the ways of a holy and fully righteous God. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s explanation for why finite men will never grasp His infinite and inexplicable actions.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

But while we might agree with God’s assessment of the problem, we too often miss the circumstances surrounding our lack of understanding. Take a look at the verses that precede the Lord’s declaration regarding His unfathomable ways. What we have difficulty comprehending is His divine willingness to show compassion on those who least deserve it.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

God specifically addresses “the wicked” and “the unrighteous.” He calls on sinners to seek Him while they still have the opportunity. He doesn’t require that they clean up their proverbial act and start living righteous lives before they seek Him. But He does ask them to turn from their wicked lifestyles and their unrighteous ways of thinking, and to seek Him instead. All so that He might shower them with His compassion and bless them with His undeserved pardon.

As sinful human beings, we find this kind of offer incomprehensible and inexplicable. It makes no sense. Because to our way of thinking, love is always conditional. Rewards must be earned. We have been raised on a steady diet of moral rhetoric that has convinced us that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet, the apostle Paul would remind us that it was for our sinfulness that Jesus came to earth and offered up His life.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Even Jesus declared that His incarnation, call to repentance, and offer of redemption was aimed at the spiritually sick and hopeless.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

On another occasion, Jesus reiterated this same sentiment, declaring His intention to show compassion on those who least deserved it.

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

So, when we read a book like Hosea, we can become confused by what appears to be apparent contradictions in the character of God. One minute we find Him castigating and condemning the Israelites for their immorality and idolatry. He declares His dissatisfaction with them and delivers warnings of His pending judgment. Then, almost out of nowhere, God declares His intention to show them mercy.

Take a look a verses 8-9. They stand in stark contrast to verse 7, where God just declared His intention to ignore Israel’s pleas for help. They will cry out, but “he shall not raise them up at all.”

Yet, in the very next verse, God reveals what appears to be a dramatic change of heart.

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”
– Hosea 11:8-9 NLT

While God is determined to bring judgment against His wicked and unrighteous people, He cannot bear the thought of destroying them completely. He mentions the cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which, at one time, had enjoyed a close physical and moral relationship with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, God destroyed these two cities when He brought His judgment to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the thought of bringing that level of destruction on His chosen people caused God’s heart to soften. His compassion overwhelmed Him. He declares that “My heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8 ESV). That word “recoils” has a very interesting meaning in Hebrew. It is the word, hāp̄aḵ, and it can mean “to turn” or “overturn.” It also has a negative connotation, referring to the overthrow of someone or something. Hans Walter Wolfe provides a helpful explanation regarding what seems to be going on in the heart of God.

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.” – Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974

God is holy and must punish sin. But God also desires to extend mercy and compassion to sinners. The apostle Peter describes God as incredibly patient, and reminds us that “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). The same was true regarding His relationship with the people of Israel.

Israel would face God’s judgment, but would not have to undergo the full weight of His divine wrath.

“No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
    I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11:9 NLT

Unlike fallen mankind, God is not motivated by sinful desires. Even in His anger, He always acts righteously and justly. He is never capricious or vindictive. According to the psalmist, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

This is not a picture of God relenting, repenting, or even changing His mind. He is simply stating that He is a God who is balanced and just in all that He does. He is going to punish Israel, but He is also going to keep every covenant promise He has made to them. His destruction will come, but it will not be complete and comprehensive. He will severely discipline them, but refrain from annihilating them. Why? Because He has promised to use them to bring a blessing to the nations, and He will accomplish that promise through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. His plans do not always make sense to us. But His grand plan for the redemption of mankind included His Son being born into the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, as a descendant of Abraham, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, God will restore His people to power and prominence when His Son sets up His earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Which is exactly what God promised to the rebellious people of Israel through His prophet, Hosea.

“For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:11-12 NLT

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Than A Fish Tale

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3 ESV

The rather diminutive book of Jonah contains one of the most familiar and well-loved stories in the Bible. This seemingly far-fetched but delightful tale about a disobedient prophet who gets swallowed by a whale has been recited by generations of parents to their children as a cautionary warning of what happens to those who fail to obey God. Over the centuries, countless children’s books have been printed that depict the adventures of Jonah and his aquatic companion with colorful cartoons and kid-friendly language.

But could there be more to the story than a moralistic Sunday School lesson about obedience and faithfulness? Do the four chapters of this Old Testament book contain a deeper and more significant message than most of us realize? I think the answer is yes. And over the next weeks we, like Jonah, will go to great depths to see what God may be trying to tell us through the pages of this timeless book.

To truly understand the book of Jonah, we have to remember that its author was not just telling a story, he was communicating a message from God. Like every other book included in the Canon of Scripture, Jonah was “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). And Paul goes on to tell us that each and every book in the Bible has a far more important purpose than simply conveying a story. They exist so  “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the end, the 66 books of the Bible are not just a collection of ancient stories, poems, historical records, or biographical accounts. They are the Spirit-inspired revelation of God to man. Together, they contain the story of God’s relationship with humanity. It is, in reality, a single book with one solitary author: God Almighty. And like all good books, it has a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). And between its opening chapters and its closing epilogue, it contains a wide range of divinely-inspired stories that are designed to provide its readers with a greater grasp of and appreciation for God. And the book of Jonah is no exception.

Yet, over the centuries, scholars and biblical commentators have debated the authenticity and veracity of the story of Jonah. Some have labeled it as nothing more than an allegorical tale containing hidden intended to convey important spiritual truths. Others have deemed the book of Jonah as parabolic in nature. In other words, it is nothing more than an extended parable designed to teach a heavenly message through a fictional story – much like Jesus did.

What makes the story of Jonah so hard to accept as a historical or biographical record is the very thing that makes it so compelling: The part about Jonah being swallowed by a whale or large fish. This one aspect of the story challenges its credibility and forces many to deem it a fictional account that was never intended to be considered factual. But the book of Jonah is not unique in its depiction of inexplicable and seemingly unbelievable stories of supernatural phenomena. In fact, in many ways, the book of Jonah mirrors the biblical records of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The lives of these two men, as described in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings, are filled with seemingly impossible and incomprehensible stories that defy explanation and stretch the bounds of credulity. Elijah called down fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” ( 1 Kings 18:38 ESV). On another occasion, Elijah met the needs of a starving widow by providing her with a  jar of flour that never went empty and a jug of oil that never ran dry (1 Kings 17). And when it came time for Elijah’s prophetic career to come to an end, God removed him from the earth in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2).

From the creation account found in Genesis to the record of Jesus’ resurrection contained in the gospels, the Bible is filled with stories that defy the imagination and explanation. But, after all, it is the story of God. And according to Jesus, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

In studying the book of Jonah, we must keep in mind that its author had a Jewish audience in mind when he wrote it. There are aspects to the story that would have immediately resonated with them as the chosen people of God. They would have recognized the bigger story contained in the description of Jonah’s epic and ill-fated journey from the land of Canaan to the depths of the sea in the belly of the whale. Written at a time when the Assyrian empire was reaching its zenith of power, they would have understood Jonah’s reticence to heed God’s call to go to Nineveh. The Assyrians were immoral and brutal. They were feared for their excessive acts of cruelty and their insatiable hunger for conquest.

But the Jews who heard the account of Jonah would have recognized that this was far more than a story about an individual man and his stubborn refusal to heed the call of God. They would have clearly understood that Jonah was intended to be a not-so-subtle representation of them. He was a Hebrew who had been called by God to deliver a message to the most powerful and sin-plagued city on the planet. But he would refuse God’s commission, choosing instead to run from God’s presence and accept the consequences for his disobedience. He would rather die than run the risk of watching the despised Assyrians repent and be spared by a merciful God.

When the author’s Jewish audience heard God order Jonah to “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh” ( Jonah 1:2 NLT), they would have been reminded of God’s call to Abram, the great patriarch of the Jewish people.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 ESV

Abram, a resident of Ur, located in the region of the Chaldees, had been ordered by God to pack up his family and belongings and head to the land of Canaan. And God had promised this Gentile unbeliever that He would make of him a great nation.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Don’t miss that last statement. God had promised Abram that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations of the earth. And God would later explain to Abram’s descendants how that was going to take place.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
   to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
– Isaiah 42:5-7 ESV

And God would later reiterate that promise through the prophet Isaiah.

“I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

Now, centuries later, God is issuing a call to Jonah, a descendant of Abram, and demanding that he leave the land of Canaan and head to “Nineveh, that great city” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). He is being commanded to leave the land of promise and head to a people who epitomize godlessness and unrighteousness. The city of Nineveh is evil incarnate and yet God is calling Jonah to carry the light into the darkness so the blind may see and those imprisoned by sin might be set free.

And when Jonah refused God’s call, the Jewish audience would have recoiled at his stubborn act of disobedience. But as the story of Jonah’s flight from God unfolds, they would have recognized that his rebellious response was intended to condemn their own failure to be a light to the nations. Jonah will later describe himself as “a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, here he was refusing to obey the very one He claimed to fear. He was running from God. And this story of his flight from God rather than be the light of God, is the story of Israel. Jonah becomes the stand-in for the people of God. And this story will reveal how God’s rebellious people failed to play their appointed role as His light-bearers to the world. But this very same story will point to God’s unwavering love for the world and His grand redemptive plan to save the lost from every tribe, nation, and tongue. In a sense, Jonah foreshadows the coming of another Hebrew who will heed the call of God and take the message to the Gentile nations, opening the eyes that are blind, bringing out the prisoners from the dungeon, and releasing from the prison those who sit in darkness. Jesus will become the faithful Jonah and the true Israel who would fulfill God’s call to be a light to the nations.

Centuries later, Jesus would read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, not far from the place where Jonah was born.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:17-18 NLT

And when He was finished, Jesus would close the scroll and boldly proclaim, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT).

So, there is far more going on in the book of Jonah than a tall tale regarding a runaway prophet and a large fish. And it is so much more than a moral lesson about obedience. The book of Jonah is ultimately about the love of God for a lost and dying world and His unstoppable redemptive plan that no stubborn prophet or rebellious people will keep from being fulfilled. This entire book is about the faithfulness of God, not the unfaithfulness of Jonah. And it is about His unstoppable plan to shine the light of His grace and mercy into the darkness of sin that pervades His creation.

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

Going Through the Motions

21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:21-27 ESV

Josiah’s efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah were unprecedented. He did more than any of the other kings of Judah to reestablish and reaffirm the nation’s commitment to the covenant they had made with God. But he faced a formidable and seemingly endless task. His own father had bequeathed to him a kingdom that was in a state of spiritual disarray and moral decline. It seems that everywhere Josiah looked, he found more idols, altars, and shrines to the many false gods his predecessors had erected in Judah. Their pervasive presence provided tangible evidence of the nation’s steep spiritual decline. Like cancer cells in the human body, idolatry had invaded the nation of Judah, spreading its deadly influence to the far corners of the kingdom. And Josiah spent a lifetime attempting to seek and destroy every last vestige of idolatry from the land.

But Josiah knew that even if he was successful in removing every idol, shrine, and altar,  there would still be a problem. The eradication of idolatry would not necessarily result in faithfulness to Yahweh. To restore the peoples’ faith in God, Josiah knew they would need to be reminded of the greatness of God. That is why he spent so much time and money restoring the temple, the symbol of God’s presence and power. It also explains his determination to reinstitute the celebration of Passover.

This annual feast had been divinely ordained by God and was intended to serve as a perpetual reminder of God’s miraculous and gracious deliverance of the nation of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. On the night that God had sent the death angel to enact the tenth and final plague against the Egyptians, He had given the Israelites instructions that would guarantee their safety. Each family was to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lentil of their home. Then they were to gather inside their homes and “eat the meat the same night; they will eat it roasted over the fire with bread made without yeast and with bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:8 NLT).

The people of Israel were expected to faithfully observe this rather strange ritual in order to escape the judgment that was about to fall on the land of Egypt. And God assured them that if they would obey His instructions, they would be spared.

“I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you, and this plague will not fall on you to destroy you when I attack the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:12-13 NLT

And even before the lambs were slaughtered and the death angel appeared, God commanded His people to make this an annual celebration.

This day will become a memorial for you, and you will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—you will celebrate it perpetually as a lasting ordinance. – Exodus 12:14 NLT

They were to observe it every year as a reminder of God’s power and provision. And Moses even told them what to say when the future generations of Israelites asked about the nature of this strange celebration.

“It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, when he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck Egypt and delivered our households.” – Exodus 12:27 NLT

But by the time Josiah became king, the celebration of Passover had become a distant and fading memory. Generations of Israelites had grown up having never celebrated this annual feast or having heard the story of God’s deliverance. As a result, they were ignorant of His goodness and greatness. In their minds, Yahweh was just one more God in the pantheon of gods worshiped in Judah. And when Josiah systematically removed all the other options, they found themselves left with a God they didn’t know and could not fully appreciate. And because they had not been taught the Book of the Covenant, they failed to understand the danger of their ignorance of and indifference to God. Centuries earlier, before the Israelites entered the land of promise, Moses had warned them:

“Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you—a land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn-out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat your fill, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. You must revere the Lord your God, serve him, and take oaths using only his name. You must not go after other gods, those of the surrounding peoples, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a jealous God—his anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-15 NLT

Everything Moses had warned them about had happened. They had forgotten God. They had failed to revere and serve Him. And Josiah was desperately trying to remedy the situation by calling the people to recommit themselves to Yahweh. He used all his authority and power as king to reestablish the primacy of the one true God. He poured every ounce of his passion into the process and spared no expense to see that Yahweh was honored in a manner worthy of His greatness and goodness. Josiah went out of his way to ensure that this Passover was a spectacular occasion that would reaffirm God’s incomparable value and reignite the peoples’ faithfulness to Him.

Never since the time of the prophet Samuel had there been such a Passover. None of the kings of Israel had ever kept a Passover as Josiah did, involving all the priests and Levites, all the people of Jerusalem, and people from all over Judah and Israel. – 2 Chronicles 35:18 NLT

Josiah’s tireless efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah would not go unnoticed. He would go down in history as one of the greatest kings of Judah.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. – 2 Kings 23:25 ESV

He was a man of great faith who used his divinely ordained role as king to lead the people back to God. Like his ancestor David, Josiah was a man after God’s own heart who shepherded the flock of God “with a true heart and led them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 NLT). He did all he could do to reestablish the holiness of God’s name and reinvigorate the hearts of the people to serve Him alone. But his efforts, while sincere, would prove unsuccessful. God was not going to relent concerning His judgment of Judah.

Even so, the Lord was very angry with Judah because of all the wicked things Manasseh had done to provoke him. For the Lord said, “I will also banish Judah from my presence just as I have banished Israel. And I will reject my chosen city of Jerusalem and the Temple where my name was to be honored.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 NLT

God knew their hearts, and He was fully aware that their outward displays of repentance were insincere and insufficient. The idols had been removed, but their hardened hearts remained. And this sad state of affairs would lead God to declare through the prophet Isaiah:

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Josiah had torn down all the idols, shrines, and altars, but he could do nothing to heal the hearts of the people. Despite all his efforts, the people remained just as unfaithful and unresponsive to God. The prophet Isaiah would accuse them of having a diminished view of God.

Those who try to hide their plans from the Lord are as good as dead,
who do their work in secret and boast,
“Who sees us? Who knows what we’re doing?”
Your thinking is perverse!
Should the potter be regarded as clay?
Should the thing made say about its maker, “He didn’t make me”?
Or should the pottery say about the potter, “He doesn’t understand”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

Josiah had purged the land of idols, restored the temple, reinstituted the Passover, and refamiliarized the people with the Book of the Covenant. But he could do nothing to legislate heart change. While he had successfully transformed the environment in which they lived, the people of Judah remained just as unfaithful as ever. God would later warn the prophet Ezekiel to be wary of the hypocritical hearts of the people of Judah.

“So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money.” – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

Judah would experience the same fate as their neighbor to the north. Their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God would result in their destruction. Josiah had done his best, but the fall of Judah was inevitable and unavoidable because the hearts of the people remained unresponsive and unrepentant.

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

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

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

A Reversal of Fortunes

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.

10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” 2 Kings 21:1-15 ESV

When reading the opening lines of 2 Kings 21, an old proverb comes to mind that states: “All good things must come to an end.” With the end of Hezekiah’s life, the fortunes of Israel took a decidedly dark turn for the worse. While Hezekiah was far from a perfect king, he had proved to be faithful to Yahweh, doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3 ESV). As a result, “the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:7 ESV). Hezekiah had been an ambitious reformer, who had attempted to restore and reinvigorate the worship of Yahweh in Judah. But the last 15 years of his reign, which were marked by peace and great prosperity, became fertile ground for Hezekiah’s pride to take root and grow. In time, he developed an unhealthy preoccupation with his own success and self-importance. 

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

And it must be recalled that those 15 years had been a gracious gift from God, in answer to Hezekiah’s humble prayer as he lay near death. God heard and restored his health, then granted him another 15 years of life. During the last 11 years, up until the day of his death in 686 BC, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh had served as his co-regent. But upon Hezekiah’s death, Manasseh assumed the burden and responsibilities of leadership as the king of Judah – at the age of 23.

Manasseh had begun his co-regency at the young age of 12. So, for 11 years this young man had been able to serve alongside his father, learning valuable life lessons on everything from leadership and diplomacy to fiduciary responsibility and spiritual fidelity. But unfortunately, Manasseh was exposed to some of Hezekiah’s less flattering years in office. He served alongside his father at a time when Judah was prospering and Hezekiah was more interested in building his kingdom and reputation than in promoting the worship of Yahweh.

And it becomes quite obvious that Manasseh’s 11-year apprenticeship under his father’s tutelage had failed to prepare him to be a godly king. His ascension to the throne ushered in one of the darkest periods in Judah’s long and tumultuous history. And his reign would reverse most, if not all, of the religious reforms his father had implemented. Virtually overnight, he would radically transform the kingdom of Judah into a spiritual wasteland by systematically rescinding all of his father’s earlier reforms.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. – 2 Kings 21:2-3 NLT

This ambitious young man seemed determined to eradicate all vestiges of Yahweh from the hearts and minds of the people. He erected altars to false gods inside the temple, rendering it unholy and unfit for Yahweh’s presence. He encouraged the practice of sorcery and divination. He even promoted the use of human sacrifices as an acceptable form of worship by offering up his own sons.

Everything he did was in direct violation of God’s commands and seemed to be a well-calculated plan to disrupt all that his father had accomplished. He was purposefully dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had left. We are not given any indication as to what prompted Manasseh’s actions. His mother is mentioned but we know nothing about her or what role she may have played in his spiritual formation. But it is painfully clear that while Manasseh inherited his father’s throne, he did not inherit his father’s love for Yahweh. In fact, he led the nation of Judah to “do even more evil than the pagan nations that the Lord had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land” (2 King 21:9 NLT). All that his father had spent years building, Manasseh painstakingly and systematically destroyed.

But while Manasseh was busy dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had bequeathed to him, God was far from silent. The author of 2 Chronicles states that “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings” (2 Chronicles 33:10 NLT). God didn’t sit idly by, watching in silence as the young king led an insurrection against His sovereign will and authority. He sent His prophets to warn the king and his compliant subjects that they insubordination would have dire consequences. Jeremiah would deliver a particularly stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their willing participation in Manasseh’s apostasy.

“I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” says the Lord. “I will send the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the vultures to devour, and the wild animals to finish up what is left. Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Jeremiah 15:3-4 NLT

Jeremiah would go on to record God’s words concerning the capital city of Jerusalem, where Manasseh instigated his wicked and rebellious anti-reform measures.

“Who will feel sorry for you, Jerusalem?
    Who will weep for you?
    Who will even bother to ask how you are?
You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:5-6 NLT

God declared Manasseh to be more wicked than the pagan nations who had previously occupied the land of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites. This leader of God’s chosen people had managed to out-sin the godless Amorites. Rather than follow in the steps of his father, Manasseh had decided to emulate the behavior of Ahab, the infamous king of Israel who, with the help of his wife, Jezebel, had led the northern kingdom into such depths of moral and spiritual decay that God eventually destroyed them. And now, under Manasseh’s leadership, Judah was headed down the very same path and facing a very similar outcome.

I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down.” – 2 Kings 21:13 NLT

Manasseh may have been the sovereign ruler over the kingdom of Judah but he would soon discover that he was no match for the King of the universe. His ongoing disregard and disrespect for God would not be tolerated.  God would not be mocked and those who refused to honor their covenant commitments would not be unpunished. And His blunt assessment of Judah leaves no doubt concerning their guilt and well-deserved condemnation.

“…they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:15 NLT

Manasseh believed that he had the freedom and authority to replace Yahweh. After all, he was king. But he was about to learn the same painful lesson that God had taught to Ahab, Sennacherib, and so many other human kings. There is but one King over all the earth and He alone decides who rules and reigns over the kingdoms of the earth. Manasseh served at God’s discretion and he would soon discover that his ego was no match for God’s divine will. Years later, another pride-filled king would learn the same timeless lesson from the lips of another prophet of God, as Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses—even to the lowliest of people” (Daniel 4:17 NLT).

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

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

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

Robbing God of Glory

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 20:12-21 ESV

Hezekiah shows the Babylonian messengers his treasures (2 Kings 20, 13). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

For whatever reason, the author of 2 Kings provides no details concerning Hezekiah’s reaction to his miraculous healing or to God’s gracious gift of 15 more years of life. This man had been near death and had been told by the prophet of God that his days were numbered. He was deathly sick and helpless to do anything about his situation, so he cried out to God. And Yahweh responded by restoring his health and promising to extend his reign by 15 years. Yet, the author simply skips to the next story without providing any insight into Hezekiah’s response to this wonderful gift from God. But if we turn to 2 Chronicles 32, we discover that the newly healed king did not respond with humble gratitude, but with pride.

Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 32:25 NLT

Perhaps Hezekiah’s new lease on life had gone to his head. He had narrowly escaped the clutches of death and was back to full health. On top of that, the Assyrian menace had all but disappeared. His kingdom was secure and he was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But he failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. He neglected to offer any form of sacrifice to express his thanks to Yahweh. And this arrogant display of ingratitude brought God’s anger against the king, his capital, and the nation of Judah.

Once again, we’re given little in the way of details. The author does not tell us what form God’s judgment took. But it had its intended effect.

Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:26 NLT

God’s wrath was abated but it seems that Hezekiah’s pride was not. It seems that Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent emissaries to visit him. By the time these men had made the long trek from Babylon to Jerusalem, Hezekiah had been healed. So, when they arrived, the newly revived king decided to impress his guests by giving them the grand tour of the royal capital. And he showed them everything.

Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 NLT

But to better understand what is going on here, we need to turn back to 2 Chronicles 32 for context. It would appear that King Hezekiah not only enjoying renewed health but a revitalized kingdom with a reinvigorated economy. Things were booming in Judah.

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

Hezekiah had it all: Health, wealth, and prosperity. And he was more than happy to display the full extent of his power and possessions to his foreign guests. But the author 2 Chronicles reveals an important detail that must not be overlooked. The visiting Babylonian emissaries wanted to know “about the sign that had been done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV). Evidently, upon their arrival, they had been told how the king had been healed by God. Someone had shared with them about the miracle of the shadow reversing itself on the steps of Ahaz. And they were intrigued and eager to hear more. In other words, Hezekiah was being given a chance to brag about his God. But the passage tells us that “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV).

God stood back and watched to see how Hezekiah would respond to this opportunity. But rather than declare the glory and the goodness of Yahweh to his pagan guests, Hezekiah bragged about himself. He said nothing about his miraculous healing or of God’s promise to extend his reign an additional 15 years. And he fails to even mention the miraculous sign. His entire exchange with these men was centered upon himself. Look closely at how the author describes Hezekiah’s actions:

…he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 ESV

It was all about him. And when Hezekiah is confronted by the prophet Isaiah, he further confirms the self-centered nature of his interaction with the envoys.

“They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” – 2 Kings 20:15 ESV

Not once does Hezekiah mention Yahweh. He doesn’t even acknowledge God as the source behind all his possession, including his very life. And with this incredible display of self-adulation, Hezekiah failed the test and revealed exactly what was in his heart. So, Isaiah delivered what should have been a devastating bit of bad news:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – 2 Kings 20:17 ESV

And, as if that was not bad enough, Isaiah adds another element to God’s divine judgment against Hezekiah and Judah.

“…some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20:18 ESV

And to our shock and surprise, Hezekiah responds favorably to the prophet’s words. He isn’t even fazed by the news that his sons will be taken as captives and forced to become eunuchs to the king of Babylon. He hears all of this as good news. Why? Because all Hezekiah really cared about was himself. Look closely at his response to Isaiah.

“At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – 2 Kings 20:19 NLT

According to 2 Chronicles 32:27, “Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored.” He enjoyed great prestige, power, and a time of unprecedented peace. And as long as he was able to keep what he had, he was willing to sacrifice the future, even if it meant that his sons would suffer so that he could prosper.

What makes this story even more disheartening is the fact that, at one time, Hezekiah had penned a poem to Yahweh, expressing his gratitude for his healing. Immediately after receiving the news that God would graciously deliver him from death, Hezekiah had taken the time to put his thoughts in writing. Look closely at what he said:

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.
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.
Only the living can praise you as I do today.
    Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next.
Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me!
    I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord. – Isaiah 38:16-20 NLT

They say time heals all wounds. But in Hezekiah’s case, time became his enemy. The further he got away from his near-death experience and his miraculous healing by God, the more forgetful and ungrateful he became. His focus shifted from the goodness and greatness of God to his own power and possessions. He became self-obsessed and myopic in his outlook and, as a result, he lost sight of the glory and grandeur of God. And it would be the prophet Isaiah who would write his own poem concerning Yahweh, that should have served as a wake-up call to the pride-filled and self-possessed king of Judah.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
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 40:28-31 NLT

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

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

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

Sickness, Shadows, and Signs

1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” 10 And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” 11 And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. 2 Kings 20:1-11 ESV

Hezekiah was a good man who remained faithful to Yahweh throughout his tenure as king of Judah. This made him a rather rare commodity among the other kings Judah and Israel. Most of these men displayed a passion for idols and a propensity for godless behavior that brought upon them God’s judgment. So many of Hezekiah’s peers and predecessors had been nothing more than apostate idol worshipers. Yet, the author of 2 Kings saved his most glowing assessment for King Hezekiah.

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. – 2 Kings 18:5 ESV

Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms in Judah that were meant to restore the peoples’ devotion to and confidence in Yahweh. He cleansed the temple of God that had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. He reinstituted temple worship by recommissioning the priests and Levites. He also called for the reinstatement of the feast of unleavened bread and the celebration of Passover,  which both had long been neglected. These annual celebrations had been commissioned by God and were intended to be reminders of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But when Hezekiah issued a royal decree that the nation of Judah gather in Jerusalem to re-commemorate these two God-ordained festivals, some of the people responded with derision and refused to attend. Many of those who did come to Jerusalem had failed to follow God’s requirements concerning purification.

Most of those who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not purified themselves. But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law. For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NLT

Yet all of Hezekiah’s reforms and his determination to restore the nation’s dedication to Yahweh did not prevent him from encountering difficulties during his reign. His faithfulness to God did not innoculate his reign from potential trials or keep his kingdom trouble-free. In fact, even this godly and faithful king found himself having to deal with the threat of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But when the enemy showed up outside the gates of Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t rail against God, accusing the Almighty of having abandoned His people. The king didn’t waste time listing all of his reforms or recounting all his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh to Judah. No, he simply prayed that God would intervene on their behalf – and He did. God had not prevented the enemy from showing up, but He did miraculously cause them to go away. In the midst of their greatest trial, when all looked hopeless and they found themselves helpless, Hezekiah and the people of Judah had their faith reinvigorated by the power and presence of God.

And while God miraculously delivered His people from the threat of annihilation by the Assyrians, that was not the only difficulty that Hezekiah faced. The author states that “in those days” or around the same time that the Assyrian threat was taking place, the king of Judah became deathly ill. Just when the kingdom was facing its most difficult trial, Hezekiah was given a devasting bit of bad news from the prophet of God: “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness” (2 Kings 20:1 NLT).

But once again, Hezekiah didn’t respond in anger or resentment. He didn’t lash out at God in disappointment or hurl accusations of divine dereliction of duty. He simply prayed. He turned his face to the wall and called out to his God: “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you” (2 Kings 20:3 NLT). Then he simply wept. 

Hezekiah wasn’t bragging or boasting. He wasn’t insinuating that God was somehow obligated to heal him. He was simply asking that God not forget his efforts to remain faithful. Hezekiah did not ask to be restored. He begged to be remembered. And he probably had his eternal state in mind at the time. He was hoping that he had done enough to earn God’s favor and to secure entrance into His Kingdom. And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and provided him with an immediate response.

“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 20:5-6 NLT

God gave Hezekiah an additional 15 years to lead the people of Judah. And, on top of that, God assured Hezekiah that He would protect the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat. God was going to eliminate the enemy outside the gates of the city and the illness inside the body of Hezekiah. And when the king asked Isaiah if he could provide any proof that these things would actually take place, God graciously obliged by providing a miracle.

he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. – 2 Kings 20:11 ESV

Evidently, right before the eyes of the king and all those in his royal bedroom, the sun appeared to reverse itself. The shadow that had advanced ten steps suddenly went in the opposite direction, in direct violation of natural order. God’s particular choice of a sign was intended to prove to Hezekiah that He could do the impossible. If He could cause the shadow to reverse its course, He could also reverse the effects of Hezekiah’s illness and the outcome of the Assyrian siege.

Nothing was too difficult for God. The one who gave the sun its light could control its shadow. The one who gave Hezekiah his life could prolong it. And the one who gave men the ability to conceive and implement plans could easily redirect or reverse those plans to suit His sovereign will. The shadow reversed. The king was healed. The Assyrians gave up their siege of Jerusalem. God graciously displayed His power over sickness, nature, and the nations of the world. And Hezekiah was given 15 more years to prove his faithfulness to Yahweh. But as we will see, his new lease on life will not produce the most glowing results. The glory of his former faithfulness will see its shadow reversed as the king struggles with pride and the seductive influence of success.

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, O Lord, Are God Alone

1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

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

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 before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the 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. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:1-19 ESV

When King Hezekiah’s three emissaries returned with a report of all that the Rabshakeh had said, he was overwhelmed with grief. This self-absorbed and overly confident commander of Sennacherib’s army had ridiculed Hezekiah for placing any hope of rescue in Egypt. Pharaoh would prove to be an unreliable source of help against the much larger and better equipped Assyrian army. And Sennacherib’s cocky commander scoffed at any notion that the God of Judah would come to their aid. Speaking on behalf of his equally arrogant king, the Rabshakeh had boldly declared, “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18:35 NLT).

Demoralized by this devastating news, King Hezekiah immediately entered into a state of mourning and sought refuge and solace in the house of God. From there, he sent a  message to the prophet Isaiah.

“Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff, sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!” – 2 Kings 19:3-4 NLT

These were dark days for the nation of Judah, but Hezekiah held out hope that Yahweh would still come to their aid. From his vantage point within the walls of God’s house, Hezekiah must have recalled the prayer that Solomon had offered up to God when he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

While Judah had not yet been defeated by the Assyrians, things were not looking good. Their massive army was camped outside the eastern walls and Hezekiah knew it was just a matter of time before the siege brought Jerusalem to its knees. But he still held out hope, turning to the prophet of God and begging him to seek Yahweh’s divine assistance. And the message he received from Isaiah must have sounded far-fetched and too good to be true.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’” – 2 Kings 19:6-7 NLT

God had heard every boastful and blasphemous word the Rabshakeh had said. And Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he had nothing to fear because God had something in store for Sennacherib that would throw a major wrench into his global conquest plans. The great king of Assyria would suddenly find himself facing unexpected attacks on a number of fronts that would eventually force him to abandon his siege of Jerusalem. But even though Sennacherib had reallocated his forces to other battlefronts, he was not going to give up on his plan to conquer Jerusalem. So, he sent another message to King Hezekiah, demanding that he give up his Don Quixote-like quest for divine rescue. Sennacherib treated the God of Judah with contempt, declaring that He would prove just as powerless as all the other gods of all the other nations that had fallen to the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s letter into the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then he prayed, “O Lord, 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. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT).

Hezekiah reminded Yahweh that all the other gods had failed because they were nothing more than the figments of man’s fertile imagination.

“They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. – 2 Kings 19:18 NLT

But Yahweh was the living God. He was the all-powerful creator God who had made the heavens and the earth. He was seated on His throne in heaven and fully capable of dealing with King Sennacherib and his seemingly unstoppable army. And Hezekiah called on Yahweh to intervene and demonstrate His sovereign power by rescuing His chosen people. And when the one true God does what no other god could do, delivering Judah from the hands of Sennacherib, all the nations of the earth will recognize “that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19 NLT). 

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

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

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