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

Sovereign Lord!

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.  – Acts 4:23-31 ESV

After their stern warning from the Sanhedrin “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18 ESV), Peter and John returned to the rest of their friends and reported all that had happened. What happened next provides us with a significant insight into the spiritual transformation that had taken in the lives of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Rather than responding in fear at the possible ramifications of the Sanhedrin’s warnings. the disciples seem to take the news quite calmly. And instead of breaking into a heated discussion about how they should respond to the threats of the council, they prayed. And what they prayed is significant and illuminating.

First, Luke is very specific in recording that they addressed God as “Sovereign Lord.” The Greek word is despotēs and it means “master, lord or sovereign ruler.” This was a title reserved for those who held positions of ultimate and unwavering power and authority. And the disciples recognized that the God to whom they were praying was the supreme Master, the sovereign, all-powerful Lord of the universe. They did not address God as Father, although in the model prayer Jesus had given them, He had taught them to do so. No, at this moment in time, facing the demands of the Sanhedrin to cease and desist, and under threats of possible retaliation if they did not, the disciples turned their attention to the sovereign nature of God Almighty. They address Him as the Creator of “the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24 ESV). And then they quote from an Old Testament passage penned by King David.

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’ – Acts 4:25-26 ESV

Notice that they attribute this passage to David, but clearly state that it had been given to the former king through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 2 had been written by David, but what he had written had been inspired by the Spirit of God. And the disciples recognized that it had been a prophetic reference to Jesus, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had given the disciples new insight into the Scriptures, allowing them to see things they had never seen before. Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus had opened the eyes of a couple of disciples walking along the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Now, the Holy Spirit was doing the same thing for the rest of the disciples. They are able to see that what David had written hundreds of years earlier had special application to them. The “rulers were gathered together against the Lord and his Anointed”. The Sanhedrin were raging and plotting, but because God is sovereign, the disciples realized they had nothing to fear. The Gentiles or Romans had played a part in Jesus’ death. The “kings of the earth” is a clear reference to King Herod, who had authorized the death of Jesus. And the reference to rulers covers Pontius Pilate, the high priest and all the religious authorities who had subjected Jesus to humiliating trials and physical beatings before His death. But all that they had done had been in vain. It had proved futile and had failed to stop the sovereign will of God. 

The disciples had seen the risen Lord. They had talked and ate with Him. They had received their commission from Him. They they heard Him promise to one day return for them. And finally, they had watched Him ascend into the sky in order to return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. So, they knew that all the Gentiles and the Jews had done had been for naught. Which meant that they had no reason to fear what the threats of the Sanhedrin.

The disciples were able to look back on all the events that had happened in Jerusalem surrounding the death of Jesus and recognize that it had all been the pre-planned work of God. They confess, “everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will” (Acts 4:28 NLT). It had been predestined and predetermined by God. All that the disciples had seen as an unmitigated disaster and as a heartbreaking end to their hopes of Jesus being the Messiah, had actually been the will of God. It had been part of His divine plan.

With all this in mind, it’s important to notice how their thoughts of God’s sovereignty influence what they ask of God. Notice that they don’t ask God to place a hedge of protection around them. They don’t request that He remove the threat that hovers over them. They don’t demand that He strike down the Sanhedrin. No, they pray for boldness. They realize He is in complete control of the circumstances, so they simply ask that He give them the strength to continue to do what He has called them to do.

29 “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” – Acts 4:29-30 NLT

They fully recognized that their strength came from God. They realized that any power they had to heal or perform signs and wonders came from God. They were simply instruments in the Redeemer’s all-powerful hands. So, they asked Him for boldness or parrēsia, a Greek word that means “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance” (Outline of Biblical Usage). They weren’t asking for relief from their problems, but for the resources they needed to continue doing His will. Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem, willingly facing not only the threat of death, but its inevitable reality. Now, they were asking for the same bold determination to keep on keeping on, regardless of what the Gentiles, kings and rulers may say.

And Luke records, “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31 ESV). It is important that we note that what happened here was not another baptism of the Holy Spirit. They had received the Spirit in full at Pentecost. This “filling” is a reference to the Spirit’s control over them. This has less to do with the specific moment in time than with the ongoing control of the Spirit over them. Luke says, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They walked out of the room under the control of the Spirit, able to speak boldly and confidently, in direct answer to their prayer request. What they were able to do was the direct result of the Spirit of God. It was His control over them that allowed them to speak the words of God with boldness. Their efforts were not the result of human strength. They were sovereignly, spiritually equipped by God for the task He had given them.

 

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

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

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

Our Righteous King.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. – Psalm 145:13-17 ESV

Psalm 145

When a king reigns, he does so over everyone in his kingdom. Even over those who reject him as their king. A good king provides protection for all. He is to enforce the laws of the kingdom over all, regardless of their status or economic standing. As a king, David knew these things well. He realized that his role as king, while accompanied by wonderful benefits, also came with formidable responsibilities. He couldn’t help but compare his own reign with that of God; and when he did, he realized that God’s Kingdom was far greater in scope and size. His responsibilities were far more extensive. David’s kingdom was tiny and insignificant in comparison. And yet, God was faithful in all His words and king in all His works. Everyone looked to Him to provide their food and fulfill their desires, whether they acknowledged Him as King or not. David recognized that it was God who opened His hand and satisfied the desires of every living thing. Speaking of His own heavenly Father, Jesus said, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). God is gracious and merciful to all. His grace is the favor He shows to those who don’t deserve it, which would include ALL mankind. His mercy is the incredible patience He shows to those who deserve His wrath. In spite of the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Roman 3:23 ESV), God has shown mercy. He has patiently put up with the sins of men over the centuries and even sacrificed His own Son in order to provide a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with Himself.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. Unlike human kings, God always does what is right. He always keeps His word. He doesn’t lie, deceive, renege on a promise, or act unjustly. We may not always understand His actions, but we can never question His integrity. He is righteous in all His ways. Sometimes is appears otherwise. Based on what we see happening around us, we can easily conclude that God is either indifferent or incapable of doing what needs to be done. It can appear as if the wicked are winning. The psalmist felt that way and cried out, “Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:2-3 ESV). Ethan the Ezrahite wrote, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man!” (Psalm 89:46-47 ESV). There are times when it feels like God is either out of control or out of ear shot. It seems as if He is not listening to our pleas for help or seeing the gravity of our situation. But God is a righteous King. He is in complete control of the circumstances – all the time. Yes, it may appear as if the wicked are prospering and the unrighteous are getting all the breaks, but God knows exactly what He is doing. He is not fooled or duped by the ways of men. He knows men’s hearts. He knows that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). No one deserves the benefits of rain or crops. No one has earned God’s favor through their acts of righteousness. The fact that any of us exist at all is a testimony to the enduring patience of God.

Paul makes a compelling argument concerning God’s righteous rule and gracious dealings with mankind. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:20-24 ESV). Who are we to question God? What right do we have to doubt the actions of the Creator of the universe? The very fact that God allows the wicked to continue to exist is a reminder of His patience and remarkable love. The fact is, God has shown all of us mercy – He has not given us what we so richly deserve – condemnation and eternal separation from Him. Instead, He has graciously allowed some to enjoy the wonders of His grace and the benefits of His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Our King is a righteous, loving, gracious and merciful King. His ways are always just and right. His actions are unquestionably good and His decision are always proper and appropriate. We may not understand what He is doing. We may not even like what He is doing, but we can rest assured that it is always for the best. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

Sovereign God – Part II

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. – Acts 4:24-30 ESV

Peter and John had been arrested by the high priest, Annas, given a stern warning to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and then released. And upon returning to their fellow disciples, they offered a corporate prayer to the sovereign Lord. They recognized His divine oversight of any and all circumstances. They acknowledged His sovereign plan that had included the arrest, trials and, ultimately, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Even Herod and Pliate had been little more than pawns in the hand of God as He accomplished His will regarding the death of His own Son. So when Peter and John had been threatened by the high priest, they knew that even that was all part of God’s plan. Jesus had predicted it. Interestingly enough, they did not ask God to remove the threats or lighten their load. They asked God “to grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness”. They didn’t ask for a change of circumstances, but for a change of attitude. They asked for boldness in place of fear, peace in place of anxiety, faith in place of doubt. They wanted God to work through their circumstances, not in spite of them. They knew that God was going to continue to do miracles, stretching out His hand to heal, and performing signs and wonders – all through the name of Jesus. Peter and John had healed a lame man, which is what had gotten them in trouble with the high priest to begin with. They knew that they had power at their disposal that would allow them to accomplish the impossible.

When interrogated by the high priest regarding and demanded to explain by whose power they had healed the man who had been lame since birth, Peter had boldly exclaimed, “you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all” (Acts 2:14-16 ESV). They had killed the Author of Life, and yet God had raised Him back to life. And as proof, Jesus had made possible the healing and perfect health of a man who had not taken a single step in his entire life. This was all the sovereign work of God. They had denied Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. They had attempted to destroy Him. But God had bigger plans. He had planned all along that His Son would die. His death at the hands of sinful men would be the key to mankind’s redemption. His sacrifice would pay for man’s sins and satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God. The penalty for sin was death. The payment required a sinless sacrifice. Only Jesus, the Son of God, met the requirements. Only Jesus could die a death that could propitiate or satisfy God’s demands and make possible forgiveness rather than condemnation.

It was this message that Peter, John and the disciples were commissioned to share. They had good news to share with all those who found themselves living in darkness and without hope. And all they asked for from God was the boldness to declare that message in the midst of threats, repeated rejection, increasing animosity and ongoing trials. They knew they were going to need strength. The threats of the high priest were real. The possibility of harm and even death was far from remote. But they knew they had a job to do. They had the answer to the world’s problems and the God-given obligation to share it. They had already seen God do great things. They had watched Him perform miracles. They had seen the resurrected Lord. They had experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit. Life for them could no longer be business as usual. The Savior had come. The Kingdom of God had drawn near. The battle for the souls of men had commenced and they viewed themselves as soldiers in the army of the Most High God. What a timely reminder for those of us living in this age. We live surrounded by darkness. The people with whom we associate each and every day are searching for hope and longing for healing, and we carry the Light of the world within us. What we so desperately need is boldness. What we should be praying for is strength to carry out our God-given task to act as salt and light, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with any and all we meet. We will be hated. We will face rejection. Those things should not surprise us, but neither should they deter us. May our daily prayer be, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”