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

The God of the Land

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 2 Kings 17:19-28 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and as verse 18 indicates, the defeat of the ten northern tribes left only the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet none of this should have come as a surprise. God had repeatedly sent His prophets to warn of the coming fall of Israel. Even the prophets like Micah, who ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah, were ordered to declare God’s words of judgment against Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
    a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
    for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
    exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
    All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
    earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
    to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” – Micah 1:6-7 NLT

And Isaiah, another prophet to the southern kingdom, had also predicted the fall of Samaria.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine.
For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground.
The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet. – Isaiah 28:1-3 NLT

But God had also sent His prophets directly to the people of Israel. Despite their apostasy and unfaithfulness, He continued to raise up men like Amos, to deliver His message of pending judgment for their sins.

Announce this to the leaders of Philistia
    and to the great ones of Egypt:
“Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria,
    and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel.”

“My people have forgotten how to do right,”
    says the Lord.
“Their fortresses are filled with wealth
    taken by theft and violence.
Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:9-11 NLT

Hosea was another prophet to the northern kingdom who had also clearly communicated God’s displeasure and His intention to punish them for their rebellion.

…they have deserted the Lord
    to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 10-12 NLT

Decade after decade, the kings of Israel had led the nation down a path of destruction. They had been warned but had refused to listen. And the author of 2 Kings reminds his readers that the Israelites had no one to blame but themselves.

Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. – 2 Kings 17:212-23 NLT

The fall of Israel should have been a wake-up call to the people living in Judah. As they witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they should have recognized it as the hand of God Almighty. “But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:19 NLT). It was God’s desire that Judah would take notice of Israel’s fall and refuse to follow their example of idolatry and apostasy. The prophet Hosea shared God’s heart when he wrote, “Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things” (Hosea 4:15 NLT).

But the handwriting was on the wall. The fate of Judah was sealed. God knew exactly what was going to happen. The people of Judah would fail to learn from Israel’s mistake.

“The arrogance of Israel testifies against her;
    Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt.
    Judah, too, will fall with them.
When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.
They have betrayed the honor of the Lord,
    bearing children that are not his.
Now their false religion will devour them
    along with their wealth.” – Hosea 5:5-7 NLT

It would be just a matter of time before Judah experienced a similar fate. While they had enjoyed a limited degree of spiritual success due to the efforts of a few of their kings, they were still guilty of emulating the sins of Israel. A love affair with false gods would continue to plague the nation, leading them to turn their backs on Yahweh. Though they continued to offer their sacrifices at the temple, the day was coming when God would no longer tolerate their hypocritical displays of faithfulness. That is why Hosea wrote, “When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the Lord, they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6 NLT).

It was the prophet Isaiah who declared God’s displeasure and disgust with Judah because their worship of Him was and meaningless. They were just going through the motions.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Judah had ring-side seats to the divine destruction of Israel. After witnessing the fall of their northern neighbor, they must have realized that the king of Assyria would not limit his conquest to the capture of Samaria. He would continue south and they would likely be his next victim.

After having conquered Israel, the Assyrians took many of its citizens as captives. Then they began a repopulation campaign, importing people from other conquered territories like Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These non-Jews were forcibly relocated into the towns of Samaria, filling the vacancies left by the exiled Israelites. The Assyrians expected these migrant workers to tend the land in order to maintain its production capacities. But God had other plans.

Because these foreigners knew nothing about Yahweh, they continued to worship their own gods. But they were now living on land that belonged to the God of Israel. Just because the people of Israel were gone did not mean that God had vacated the premises. It had been His land all along, and the Israelites had been nothing more than His stewards. In their absence, God was going to protect the integrity of His name and the sacredness of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was holy land because He had consecrated it and set it apart. And God was not about to let it revert to its former state. When God had given the land to Joshua and the people of Israel, He had tasked them with the removal of all the pagan nations that currently occupied its borders. And He was not about to let the land revert to its former state of pagan idolatry. So, when the new arrivals began to worship their false gods, Yahweh sent lions to attack them. The news of this divinely ordained act of judgment reached the king of Assyria.

“The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.” – 2 Kings 17:26 NLT

Amazingly, the pagan Assyrians recognized the hand of God in all of this. They were more attentive to the actions of Yahweh than the people of Israel had ever been. And the king of Assyria took immediate action.

“Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:27 NLT

It’s interesting to note that this lone priest was sent to Bethel, one of the two cities where King Jeroboam had placed his golden idols (1 Kings 12:25-30). Perhaps the king of Assyria knew that this town had become a key focal point of pagan worship. It would have made sense for these idol-worshipers to seek out those places within Israel where they could offer sacrifices to their false gods. And because Jeroboam had erected shrines in Bethel and Dan, these would have been attractive destinations for these newly arrived occupants who were looking for something that would remind them of home. So, the priest was sent to Bethel which, in Hebrew, means “house of God.”

This priest was tasked with instructing the new residents in the proper worship of God. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. The people of Israel, who had been chosen by God, had refused to worship Him. So, He had removed them from the land. The king of Assyria sent foreigners to replace the exiled Israelites and then ordered that they be instructed in the proper worship of Yahweh. This pagan king did what none of the kings of Israel had ever done, and it was all the work of God.

But as will become clear, these new converts to Judaism would prove to be no different than the Israelites. Unwilling to give up their idols, they would simply add Yahweh as another option in their arsenal of deities. And the pattern of syncretism and unfaithfulness would continue. The land had new occupants, but it was the same old story. Their worship of God would be nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Like the Israelites before them, they would just be going through the motions.

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

 

 

Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 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

In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
 
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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 12:1-3 ESV

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

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

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

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

A God Worth Worshiping

1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.
Micah 4:1-5 ESV

Chapter four features a dramatic shift in the tone and language of Micah’s prophetic message. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he moves from speaking about the coming judgment of God to the future restoration of the kingdom. It’s as if Micah was saying, “I have bad news and I have good news.” He delivered the bad news first and is now letting his audience know that there is a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over their heads.

As with all prophecies, it will be essential to establish the timing involved in Micah’s message. Has what he predicted already happened or does it remain as yet unfulfilled. It is interesting to note that the prophet Jeremiah penned an almost identical message in the book that bears his name.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

The glaring similarity between the messages of these two prophets has left commentators and scholars debating the original source of their prophetic word. Did Isaiah borrow it from Micah or was it the other way around? But if you look at Isaiah’s own words, he makes it clear that he derived his message from God.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem – Isaiah 2:1 ESV

And Isaiah opened his book with the following explanation:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. – Isaiah 1:1 ESV

The same thing could be said of Micah. He opened his book with these words:

This is the Lord’s message that came to Micah of Moresheth during the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. – Micah 1:1 ESV

Both of these men received their messages from the same divine source, so why should we be surprised when what they have to say sounds similar. They were prophesying during the same period of time to the same generation of people living in Judah and Israel. And God’s message was consistent and cohesive.

But the primary focus of our attention should be on the content of their message. They were predicting a vastly different future for the people of God that seemed to contradict all they had been saying up until this point. For three chapters, Micah has had nothing but bad news to share. The days ahead were dark and foreboding. The coming judgment of God was going to be devastating and inescapable. And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he says, “And now for the good news!”

Micah refers to this future time period as “the latter days.” In Hebrew, it is ‘achariyth yowm and it can be translated “last days” or “end times.” This is what is often described as an eschatological reference. It has to do with the eschaton or end times and deals with those days in the distant future when God finalizes His plans for the world He has made. Virtually all of the prophets of God included messages concerning the “end times” in their writings.

“In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 38:16 ESV

Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:13-14 ESV

Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. – Hosea 3:5 ESV

Notice was the Daniel passage states: “For the vision is for days yet to come.” Now, that could be said about all prophetic messages since they all deal with future events. But what we have to understand is that some of those predictions have already taken place, while others remain as yet unfulfilled. When reading the prophetic books, we can look back over history and connect certain prophecies with actual events. We know that the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and their capital of Samaria was destroyed. We also know that the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, ransacking the capital of Jerusalem and taking tens of thousands of its citizens captive.

These events were prophesied by God and He sovereignly orchestrated their fulfillment. But what about this particular message recorded by both Micah and Isaiah? Has it taken place yet? Has it already been fulfilled? To answer those questions, we have to examine the content of the message and search the history of Israel to see if any past event accurately fulfills the prophetic promise it contains.

First of all, Micah refers to “the mountain of the house of the Lord.” This is a reference to Mount Zion, the outcropping upon which the city of Jerusalem still resides, and where the temple dedicated to God had been built. Micah describes a day when Mount Zion will be “the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship” (Micah 4:1 NLT).

At this point, one must ask the question, “Has this prophecy been fulfilled?” Is there a time in Israel’s distant or recent past when this promise of God has taken place? And the answer would be an emphatic, “No.” And the next part of the prophecy substantiates that conclusion.

People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
 – Micah 4:2 NLT

There has been no fulfillment of this prophecy. At no time in Israel’s past have we seen any such event take place. That means it remains as yet unfulfilled. So, the “latter days” must pertain to a time that lies in the future. And, as if to support that notion, Micah adds some aspects about this future time period that prove its eschatological nature.

For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Micah 4:2-3 NLT

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to determine that this promise remains unfulfilled. At no time in Israel’s distant or more recent history has any part of this message taken place. Even after the people of Judah were allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity, they never experienced anything like what is described in these verses. When Israel declared its independence as a nation on May 14, 1948, it did not see anything happen that remotely fulfilled this prophecy. In fact, the succeeding years have been filled with war, open hostility, and a growing animosity for the nation of Israel by its geographic neighbors.

We know, from our own experience, that nations have not hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Wars have continued unabated since this message was first delivered to the people of Israel, and the animosity between nations has not diminished in any way, share, or form.

Yet, Micah predicts a future day when…

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
    for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has made this promise! – Micah 4:4 NLT

This is a divine promise guaranteed by the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” the Lord of hosts. Which means it will take place. But the question remains: “When?” When will we see everyone living in peace and prosperity? Surely, that time is not now. But according to God’s promise, it will take place.

These verses describe a future day when everything on this planet will be radically and unalterably changed for the good. God will bring about a miraculous alteration to the geopolitical landscape of the world. It will be a time when all the world will recognize Him as the one true God. Israel will be returned to a place of prominence and power, with the Messiah, the Son of God, reigning from the throne of David and ruling over the nations of the world. And Micah uses this good news to encourage his audience to refocus their attention on the one who was going to make it happen. If this is to be Israel’s preferred future, then Micah begs them to start experiencing it now.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. – Micah 4:5 ESV

God is going to one day make Israel great again. So, why not worship Him now? Micah wants his contemporaries to understand that their God is great and He has incredible plans in store for them as a nation. But they must begin to walk in His name now. They must live according to His will, behaving in ways that reflect their calling as His chosen people. For Micah, it made no sense to reject a God who was so gracious and great and who had such a remarkable future planned for them. And he is going to continue to paint a vivid portrait of Israel’s future as promised by the gracious hand of God.

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

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

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