Faith Over Facts

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. Numbers 13:1-24 ESV

After a brief seven-day delay in which Miriam was punished for attempting to lead a coup against her own brother, God led the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They were now on the edge of the land of Canaan. This had been their destination all along. It was the place that God had promised to give them as their inheritance and now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and begin their conquest of the land.

But before they could enter into the land that God had promised to give them, He instructed Moses to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and send them on a clandestine mission to spy out the enemy’s strength and to verify the agricultural quality of the land itself.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

According to Moses’ account of this event, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, the sending of the spies had actually been the peoples’ idea.

“But you all came to me and said, ‘First, let’s send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.’

“This seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes. They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it. They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‘The land the Lord our God has given us is indeed a good land.’”  – Deuteronomy 1:22-25 NLT

They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God went along with the plan. But it appears that God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine whether there was any hope of defeating the nations that already occupied the land. But God agreed to send in spies so that they might give witness to the truth concerning the abundance and fruitfulness of the land. In other words, as far as God was concerned, this was a fact-finding mission. This was not a specially formed committee to determine or decide whether or not to go into the land. That was not an option. The conquest of the land was not up for debate.

So,the spies went and they saw. And when they returned they reported the facts just as they had witnessed them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so large that they had to be carried on a pole between two men.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 16:23 NLT

But the 12 men who went in to spy out the land returned with two different opinions about the land. The majority affirmed its fruitfulness, but also said it was filled with giants and an abundance of well-armed foes living in fortified cities. Their conclusion? “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 MSG).

Everything they said was true. The land was filled with giants. There was an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But in reporting what they had seen, these men left out one important fact: God was on their side, and He had promised to give them this land.

He had never told them it was going to be easy. From day one, He had warned them that the land would be filled with other inhabitants (Exodus 3:8, 17). He had told them that they would have to remove those inhabitants from the land. But He was going to give the victory.

“For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them.” –Exodus 23:23 NLT

God had never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure them of their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that, of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They didn’t deny the fact that there were giants in the land and fortified cities occupied by well-armed people. But their conclusion was very different: “Let’s go at once to take the land, we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 NLT).

We can do this! In spite of the odds, we can accomplish what God has told us to do. Faith can trump the facts. We can trust God because He promised us this land! It is as good as ours!

Every day we are faced with all kinds of facts that seem to contradict the faithfulness of God. Unpaid bills, financial uncertainty, illness, relational problems, job pressures, etc. We look around us and wonder if this is what God really promised us. And we lose heart. We let the facts determine our faith, instead of the other way around. We give in and give up. We fail to step out in faith in the face of the overwhelming facts and watch Him work.

God did not tell us the Christian life would be easy. He just promised to be with us. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He provided us with His Word. And He assured us of victory. We will have trials. We will face enemies. We will run into “giants” in the land. But God will go ahead of us. He will provide for us and protect us. We will still have to do battle, but He assures us of victory in the end. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must say, “We can do this, because God is with us!”

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

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

Our Great God

17 Moses and Aaron took these men who had been named, 18 and on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 as the Lord commanded Moses. So he listed them in the wilderness of Sinai.

20 The people of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 21 those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.

22 Of the people of Simeon, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, those of them who were listed, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 23 those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300.

24 Of the people of Gad, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 25 those listed of the tribe of Gad were 45,650.

26 Of the people of Judah, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 27 those listed of the tribe of Judah were 74,600.

28 Of the people of Issachar, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 29 those listed of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400.

30 Of the people of Zebulun, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 31 those listed of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400.

32 Of the people of Joseph, namely, of the people of Ephraim, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 33 those listed of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500.

34 Of the people of Manasseh, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 35 those listed of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200.

36 Of the people of Benjamin, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 37 those listed of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400.

38 Of the people of Dan, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 39 those listed of the tribe of Dan were 62,700.

40 Of the people of Asher, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 41 those listed of the tribe of Asher were 41,500.

42 Of the people of Naphtali, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 43 those listed of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400.

44 These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his father’s house. 45 So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel— 46 all those listed were 603,550. – Numbers 1:17-46 ESV

Twelve tribes yielded over 600,000 men of fighting age. That is a staggering number, and when you consider that it only included men who were 20-years-old and older, and does not take into account women and children, you can begin to sense the size of the Israelite community. Some scholars have estimated that, based on the size of Israel’s fighting force, the total number of Israelites could have been from one to two million. But those astounding estimates have caused concern among some scholars who question the impossibility of that many people surviving life in the unforgiving wilderness for more than 40 years. The NET Study Bible provides the following summary of their misgivings.

“There has been much discussion about the numbers in the Israelite wilderness experience. The immediate difficulty for even the casual reader is the enormous number of the population. If indeed there were 603,550 men twenty years of age and older who could fight, the total population of the exodus community counting women and children would have been well over a million, or even two million as calculated by some. This is not a figure that the Bible ever gives, but given the sizes of families the estimate would not be far off. This is a staggering number to have cross the Sea, drink from the oases, or assemble in the plain by Sinai. It is not a question of whether or not God could provide for such a number; it is rather a problem of logistics for a population of that size in that period of time. The problem is not with the text itself, but with the interpretation of the word אֶלֶף (’elef), traditionally translated “thousand.” The word certainly can be taken as “thousand,” and most often is. But in view of the problem of the large number here, some scholars have chosen one of the other meanings attested in literature for this word…” – see A. H. McNeile, Numbers, 7; J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges, 120; J. Bright, History of Israel, 144

In an attempt to come up with a more reasonable and believable number, other interpretations of the word אֶלֶף (’elef) have been utilized. And while these rather clever reinterpretations have resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of fighting men and, therefore, the total number of Israelites, they are not without their flaws. One such effort managed to reduce the total size of the Israelite army to about 18,000 men, resulting in an estimated population of 72,000 Israelites. This drastic reduction may make the total number of Israelites more acceptable and believable, but it plays fast and lose with the text.

It is clear that God commanded Moses to “take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head” (Numbers 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “head” is actually גֻּלְגֹּלֶת (gulgōleṯ), which means “skull.” Moses had been instructed to count every skull of every man in the Israelite community.

“…the count appears to have been literal, and the totals calculated accordingly, totals which match other passages in the text. If some formula is used to reduce the thousands in this army, then there is the problem of knowing what to do when a battle has only five thousand, or three thousand men. One can only conclude that on the basis of what we know the word should be left with the translation ‘thousand,’ no matter what difficulties this might suggest to the reader.” – NET Bible Study Notes

There is no accurate way of calculating the overall size of the Israelite community based on these numbers. S,o we must be careful when throwing around numbers like one or two million. We just don’t know. But at the same time, we must refrain from questioning the integrity of the text just because we find it difficult to accept the idea of an army of 603,550 men.

While we may find these numbers difficult to comprehend, the text provides no conclusive evidence to doubt their veracity. If anything, the size of Israel’s army supports the fear that drove Pharaoh to begin persecuting the people of Israel in the first place. The book of Exodus reminds us that during their stay in Egypt the descendants of Jacob had multiplied greatly.

…the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:7 ESV

The dramatic increase in their numbers had been significant enough to catch the attention of Pharaoh.

“Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” – Exodus 1:9-10 ESV

Exodus 13:18 states that when the Israelites left Egypt they marched out like an army arrayed for battle. They were so large that they were required to line up in regiments or groups, most likely according to the various tribes. They were a vast number of men, women, and children. They were even accompanied by non-Israelites as they made their way out of Egypt. And it’s interesting to note that the book of Exodus reports that the number of men who left Egypt was virtually the same as the number of men determined by the census.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. – Exodus 12:37-38 ESV

Unless we can find a convincing reason to dismiss the numbers that Moses recorded, it is best to accept them as proof of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation (Genesis 15:5).

“I believe we should take eleph in census contexts as thousands until further investigation clearly indicates that we should interpret it differently.” – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Numbers

During their 400 years of captivity in Egypt, God had been blessing and preparing His people for the future conquest of the land of Canaan. He had multiplied them greatly and transformed them from an army of slaves into a military force made up of freemen who were heirs to the land of promise. The numbers should stagger us. The miraculous nature of Israel’s transformation is meant to amaze us. For more than four centuries, God had protected and provided for them. He had multiplied them. And when the time was right, He had delivered them. Now, He was ready to use their vast numbers to conquer the land of Canaan. And just before his death, Moses reminded the people of Israel that their God would go before them when they entered the land.

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. – Deuteronomy 28:7 ESV

Their future victories would be the result of God’s greatness and glory, not the size of their army. They were not to place their confidence in the might of their military. They were to trust in the unfathomable greatness of God. The words God later spoke to the prophet Zechariah sum up the attitude the Israelites were to have regarding the results of the census.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” – Zechariah 4:6 ESV

Whether their army numbered 60,000 or 600,000, any victory they hoped to have would come from the Lord. He was the Lord of Heavens Armies and their only hope of future success.

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

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

A Fight to the Finish

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.

36 Then Jacob became angry and berated Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two. 38 These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.” Genesis 31:33-42 ESV

Reading this portion of the story is like watching a fight between two heavyweight boxers. Both Laban and Jacob are seasoned veterans of the ring, with an arsenal of well-honed skills at their disposal. And they each have proven themselves more than willing to resort to cheating if the circumstances call for it. They’re not afraid to fight dirty if that is what it will take to come out victorious.

So, as the angry and offended Laban confronts his nemesis, Jacob, tempers are at an all-time high. Upon discovering that Jacob had stolen away in the night, carrying his daughters, grandchildren, and personal household gods, Laban had set out in hot pursuit. Now, he was standing in front, full of fury and righteous indignation, accusing his son-in-law of everything from ingratitude and insensitivity to outright theft. But Jacob countered with a declaration of innocence and a vow to put to death anyone found in possession of Laban’s property.

Convinced of Jacob’s guilt, Laban ordered a thorough search of Jacob’s belongings. He began in the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. But his efforts proved fruitless. He could find no trace of the missing household gods. And there is a certain sense of irony in all of this because Laban was in the strange and helpless position of having to “search” for his own gods. All the while he looked, they remained hidden and silent, because they were powerless and incapable of speech. Laban’s gods couldn’t reveal, much less, save themselves. All during this story, they remain invisible and impotent, hidden away and unable to come to Laban’s aid. And it is not surprising that God’s Word has much to say about the idiocy of idols.

“What good is an idol carved by man,
    or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
    a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,
    ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
    ‘Rise up and teach us!’
    Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside.” – Habakuk 2:18-19 NLT

“Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless!” – 1 Samuel 12:21 NLT

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

One can only imagine Laban’s growing frustration as his search for his “lost” gods came up empty-handed. But his stubbornness would not allow him to give up and admit defeat. So, the search continued, this time to Rachel’s tent. And while Laban had been busy ransacking the tents of Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, Rachel had taken the household gods she had stolen and hid them in the saddle of her camel. Then, as Laban approached, she took a seat on the saddle. Verse 25 indicates that Jacob “had pitched his tent in the hill country,” so it seems likely that the saddle was lying on the ground near Rachel’s tent. And her pilfering of her father’s household gods seems to suggest that Rachel shared her father’s reverence for them. While the names of these gods are not revealed, it is readily apparent that they were of great value to Laban. He had traveled for three days in an attempt to recover them. And Rachel was willing to risk her life in order to keep them. The idols would have represented hope for future blessings and fruitfulness. Perhaps Rachel was hoping that one of these household gods could help her produce another son. Up to this point in the story, Rachel has only been able to conceive one time, and at the birth of that son, she had exclaimed, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family” (Genesis 30:24 NLT).

Perhaps Rachel believed that her first pregnancy had been the work of her father’s gods and she hoped that they would bring her further good fortune. It is clear that she was willing to risk a great deal in order to keep the gods in hiding and in her possession.

Firmly seated upon the saddle, with the idols hidden underneath her, Rachel begged her father’s forgiveness for not rising to greet him, using “the way of women” as her excuse. Laban remained unsuspecting of his daughter’s treachery and continued his search, “but he could not find the household idols” (Genesis 31:35 NLT).

And Jacob, completely oblivious to what his wife had done, must have been gloating on the inside as he watched his father-in-law’s frustration reach a fever pitch. But at some point, he lost his patience and demanded that the search end.

“What’s my crime?” he demanded. “What have I done wrong to make you chase after me as though I were a criminal? – Genesis 31:35 NLT

Jacob had endured enough of his father-in-law’s insulting behavior and demanded an apology for the last 20 years of abuse he had been forced to endure.

“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night.” – Genesis 31:38-39 NLT

Jacob had Laban on the ropes and he was pulling no punches. With each powerful blow, Jacob attempted to deliver the knock-out punch that would send his opponent to the mat. He recounted his tireless and selfless efforts to serve Laban. He reveled in his sense of self-righteousness, detailing the many ways he had treated Laban with nothing but respect. Jacob paints himself as the consummate victim, even describing himself as a helpless slave.

“Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times!” – Genesis 31:41 NLT

He had Laban staggering under a steady barrage of accusations. Those watching this epic battle would have observed that Laban was about to go down for the count. And them, Jacob delivered the final blow that would bring this fight to an end.

“In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. That is why he appeared to you last night and rebuked you!” – Genesis 31:42 NLT

Jacob’s decisive one-two punch was Yahweh, the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac. Laban’s household gods had been no match for the Almighty. For 20 long years, as these two men had done battle, Jacob had enjoyed the blessings of Yahweh. Jacob concedes that all his success had been the work of Yahweh. And Jacob wanted Laban to know that Yahweh could and would undermine any attempts to keep him from returning to Canaan. There was no going back. Jacob would not be tricked again. And the scene seems to end with Jacob standing over his defeated foe as Yahweh raises his gloved hand in victory. That match is over but, for Jacob, the real fight is about to begin.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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

A God-Ordained Victory

15 “But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him. 16 And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” 20 The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.

21 When all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to put on armor, from the youngest to the oldest, were called out and were drawn up at the border. 22 And when they rose early in the morning and the sun shone on the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. 23 And they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely fought together and struck one another down. Now then, Moab, to the spoil!” 24 But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went.  25 And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone until it was covered. They stopped every spring of water and felled all the good trees, till only its stones were left in Kir-hareseth, and the slingers surrounded and attacked it. 26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. 27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.  2 Kings 3:15-27 ESV

Verse 15 opens with the combined armies of Israel and Judah bogged down in the wilderness of Edom. Jehoram and Jehoshaphat had joined forces to attack the kingdom of Moab, but somewhere along the way, their campaign had come to an abrupt halt due to lack of water. There, in the desert-like conditions just south of the Dead Sea, they were forced to seek the aid of Elisha, the prophet of God. And while Elisha was reticent to assist the apostate king of Israel, he agreed to help because of his respect for Jehoshaphat. When Jehoram had taken stock of their precarious circumstance, he had panicked, declaring that Yahweh was out to destroy them. But Jehoshaphat, rather than assuming the worst, recommended that they seek a word from the prophet of God.

And, after having agreed to come to their aid, the first thing Elisha did was call for a musician. No explanation is given for this request, but it seems evident that the music was intended to create a soothing atmosphere, conducive to hearing from God. Much to Jehoram’s surprise, the message Elisha received from Yahweh was positive and not negative.

“This is what the Lord says: This dry valley will be filled with pools of water! You will see neither wind nor rain, says the Lord, but this valley will be filled with water. You will have plenty for yourselves and your cattle and other animals.” – 2 Kings 3:16-17 NLT

God was going to do a miracle. Elisha announced that God would fill the dry valley with water, but they would never see a cloud or watch a single raindrop fall from the sky. Where once there had been nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, there would be refreshing pools of water – enough to satisfy the thirst of every soldier, horse, and pack animal. But, according to Elisha, that would be nothing compared to the real miracle God was going to perform.

“But this is only a simple thing for the Lord, for he will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

Turning a desert into a refreshing oasis filled with fresh drinking water was nothing for God. The real miracle would come in the form of His gracious intervention in the battle against the Moabites. He was going to turn their apparent failure into victory.

God had no love affair with the Moabites. They had been a constant problem for the people of Israel for centuries. And it had all begun when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan. The king of Moab had watched as the Israelites had easily defeated the Ammonites, and he was afraid that they would face the same fate. So, he hired the services of Balaam, a local seer, providing him with instructions to curse the Israelites.

“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” – Numbers 22:5-6 NLT

But God repeatedly thwarted Balaam’s efforts to curse the people of Israel. So, Balaam ended up coming up with an alternative solution. He advised Balak, the king of Moab, to encourage his women to seduce the men of Israel. His ploy was to use intermarriage between the two nations to encourage an alliance. And, his strategy almost worked.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

God ended up judging those Israelites who violated His prohibition against intermarrying with the pagan nations in Canaan. And He placed a permanent curse of the nation of Moab.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites.” – Deuteronomy 23:3, 6 NLT

Despite Jehoram’s apostasy and Jehoshaphat’s unwise alliance with this idolatrous king, God would provide them with a miraculous and decisive victory over the Moabites. He would snatch victory out of the hands of defeat and, in doing so, allow these two prideful and self-possessed kings to reap the reward they didn’t deserve.

The next morning, water began to flow into the camp. Somewhere, out of sight, rain was falling that turned into rivers of water that flowed all the way to the wilderness of Edom. The armies of Israel and Judah woke up to the sight of pools of freshwater as far as the eye could see. But the Moabites, who were encamped along their southern border, woke up to see what they believed to be pools of blood. They immediately assumed that the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom had turned on one another and a blood bath had ensued. But when they went to investigate what had happened, rather than dead bodies, they encountered a well-rested and fully rejuvenated army. The battle quickly turned into a rout, with the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom chasing “them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went. They destroyed the towns, covered their good land with stones, stopped up all the springs, and cut down all the good trees” (2 Kings 3:24-25 NLT).

In a last desperate attempt to turn the tide of the battle, the king of Moab took his son, the heir to his throne, and offered him up as a living sacrifice to his false god. And his costly offering seemed to have had its intended effect, providing the demoralized Moabite troops with the inspiration they needed to hold off the Israelites and their allies. The author simply states “there came great wrath against Israel” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV). Evidently, the Moabites rallied behind their king and were able to drive off the invaders.

God had put the Moabites in their place. What King Mesha had failed to realize was that, when he had dared to stand opposed to Jehoram, he had actually been picking a fight with God Almighty. And while God did not approve of Jehoram’s lifestyle or leadership as the king of Israel, God was going to defend His covenant people. This victory had clearly demonstrated God’s faithfulness and His unwavering commitment to defend His people, whether they deserved it or not.

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

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city. 31 And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” 43 And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria. – 1 Kings 20:29-43 ESV

The arrival of spring in Israel was accompanied by the revitalized and greatly enlarged Syrian army. King Ben-hadad had led his forces to the Valley of Aphek, carefully avoiding any confrontation with the Israelites in the hill country, where he believed their gods wielded special power. A battle on the level plains of Aphek would give his chariots a distinct advantage and help ensure a victory over the hated Israelites.

For six days, the two armies remained in their respective camps, waiting for the opportune moment to launch the attack. The much smaller Israelite force was led by King Ahab, who had been received word from a prophet that God would give them the victory that day.

“Because the Syrians have said, ‘The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Ben-hadad was operating on misinformation. His advisors had convinced him that the Israelites’ gods were limited in their power. They were “gods of the hills” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV) and would be incapable of dictating the outcome of the battle as long as the Syrians fought the Israelites on neutral ground. But Ben-hadad would find that his strategy for success was greatly flawed. He had amassed a huge army and had chosen the ideal location that would eliminate any interference from the gods of his enemy – or so he thought.

On the seventh day, the battle began. And much to Ben-hadad’s shock and dismay, his forces were quickly overwhelmed by Israel’s inferior army. The author summarized the battle by stating, “the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left” (1 Kings 20:29-30 ESV).

We’re not told the size of Ben-hadad’s army, but these numbers reflect staggering losses that would have proved devastating to the Syrians. In one day, in a single battle, they lost 127,000 men. And the mention of the 27,000 who were crushed by the walls of the city is intended to reveal the hand of God in this victory. It is a subtle yet unmistakable reference to Israel’s victory over the city of Jericho when they first entered the land of promise. For six days, the Israelites had marched around the circumference of the city. But on the seventh day, following God’s instructions, they circled the walls seven times and then blew their trumpets.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. – Joshua 6:20 ESV

And what the Israelites did next is important. Following God’s commands, they devoted everything in the city to destruction.

…they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. – Joshua 6:24 ESV

With this as a backdrop, Ahab’s actions and the reaction of God will make much more sense. Having escaped the battlefield and successfully avoiding the falling wall, Ben-hadad sought refuge inside the city. He was trapped and at the mercy of King Ahab. So, his advisors counseled him to surrender and appeal for clemency. After all, they advised him, “the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings” (1 Kings 20:30 ESV).

The always shrewd and self-aggrandizing Ahab probably saw this as an opportunity to ingratiate the defeated Syrian king and secure a beneficial treaty between their two nations. By allowing Ben-hadad to live, Ahab hoped to open up new trading opportunities that would further enhance his power and wealth. But at no point does the passage show Ahab seeking the will of God in this matter. God had given him the victory, but Ahab was taking the credit by determining the fate of the defeated Syrian king.

God had promised to give the Syrians into Ahab’s hand, and He had delivered on that promise. And the unexpected victory was intended to reveal to the Israelites that Yahweh was Lord. With his decision to spare Ben-hadad, Ahab was essentially declaring himself to be lord. He was in control. It was his kingdom, and, as sovereign, he believed he had the right to decide what was best for Israel.

Ahab struck a deal with Ben-hadad, agreeing to return land that had once belonged to the Syrians on the condition that they set up trading posts. Ahab was in it for what he could get out of it. This arrangement with the Syrians made strategic and fiscal sense in his mind. By securing a treaty with the Syrians, he could create a buffer on his northern border, providing protection from the Assyrians’ growing menace. But he also knew he could benefit financially by gaining access to the Syrian’s lucrative trading business. In Ahab’s mind, this was a win-win scenario.

But God had other plans. He commissioned yet another prophet, sending him with a word of warning to Ahab. But to carry out his assignment, the unnamed prophet was required to sustain an injury that would allow him to gain access to the king. When this prophet asked one of his colleagues to assist him, his request was denied. His fellow prophet refused to take part in this bizarre plan, and it ended up costing him his life.

“Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me.” And when he had gone, a lion did attack and kill him. – 1 Kings 20:36 ESV

This man’s refusal to do what the prophet of God said was essentially a rejection of God’s will, and he was condemned for his disobedience. As strange and difficult to understand as it may be, this incident is meant to illustrate the importance of following the will of God. Like Ahab, this unnamed prophet had decided to operate according to his own will. And just as God had held his reluctant and disobedience prophet culpable for his actions, so too would he hold Ahab accountable for his decision to spare the life of Ben-hadad.

The prophet finally found someone to strike him in the face, creating a convincing injury that would allow him to disguise himself as a wounded soldier. His face covered in a bandage, the prophet sat beside the road, waiting for King Ahab to pass by. When the king arrived, the man explained that he had been in the battle that day. At some point, he had been given the responsibility to watch over a prisoner. He was warned that he would be killed or forced to pay a substantial fine if he allowed the prisoner to escape. But while the man had been distracted, the prisoner had gotten away.

And Ahab, who had just extended undeserved mercy to the king of Syria, refused to show a fellow Israelite any mercy or empathy. He simply stated, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it” (1 Kings 20:40 ESV). And with those callous words, Ahab unwittingly condemned himself. As soon as the prophet removed the bandage that covered his face, Ahab recognized him as one of the prophets of Yahweh. And what Ahab heard next left him “vexed and sullen” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV).

“This is what the Lord says: Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed, now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 NLT

Ahab had stubbornly refused to acknowledge Yahweh as Lord. He continued to view himself as the true sovereign over Israel. But because he chose to reject God as King, Ahab and his people would suffer the fate intended for Ben-hadad and the people of Syria. Ahab’s self-centered and self-promoting actions would bring the judgment of God and turn a divinely ordained victory into death and defeat. One way or the other, Ahab and the people of Israel were going to know that God is Lord.

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

Getting to Know God the Hard Way

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. 

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”1 Kings 20:16-28 ESV

King Ahab found himself in a strange predicament. His capital city, Samaria, was under attack by a confederation of 32 kings, led by King Ben-hadad of Syria. But much to Ahab’s surprise, a prophet of Yahweh had appeared with a plan for Israel’s deliverance.

“Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 ESV

The very God whom Ahab and Jezebel had attempted to replace with their false gods had announced that He was going to rescue His disobedient and unfaithful people. And God had told Ahab exactly how the victory would take place.

By the servants of the governors of the districts.” – 1 Kings 20:14 ESV

God was not going to utilize Ahab’s army to fight the Syrians. This is significant because Ahab, like all his predecessors, had assembled a large military force. There is even evidence to that fact, found on an ancient Assyrian stone tablet. It bears an inscription describing the battle of Qarqar between Ahab and his enemy King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. The tablet records the size of the army that assembled to do battle that day: “2,000 chariots and 10,000 men of Ahab king of Israel.”

But on this occasion, God chose to place Ahab’s formidable resources in a secondary position, choosing instead to use “servants” – a group of common people who, when assembled, amounted to only 7,000 in number.

Confident that he would defeat the Israelites, Ben-hadad and his vassal kings were drinking themselves drunk in a pre-victory celebration. So, when scouts arrived with a report that Israelite forces had been seen leaving the city, Beh-hadad had assumed they were bringing news of Israel’s surrender or their decision to continue the battle. While he and his military commanders continued to toast their inevitable victory, the 7,000 servants made their way to the Syrian camp, followed by Ahab and his army.

This surprise attack caught the Syrian forces completely unawares and unable to respond. Led by the 7,000 servants, Ahab’s army quickly routed the Syrians, forcing them to abandon camp and run for their lives. Quickly sobered by this unexpected reversal of fortunes, Beh-hadad managed to escape. But the rest of his forces didn’t fare as well.

And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow. – 1 Kings 20:21 ESV

Notice that the author conveniently eliminates any mention of Ahab’s name. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” He repeats this obvious slight in the very next verse, refusing to give Ahab any credit for the victory. He simply warns him that the battle may be done, but the war is from over.

“Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.” – 1 Kings 20:22 ESV

Ben-hadad would be back. He had suffered a devastating defeat, but once he had time to assess what had happened that day, the Syrian king would return, more determined than ever to avenge his loss by destroying the Israelites. And his advisors encouraged his plans by suggesting that his loss had been divinely ordained. In their pagan way of thinking, the only thing that could explain a loss of this magnitude was the intervention of the gods. They rationalized away their defeat by concluding that they had chosen the wrong place to do battle.  They absolved Beh-hadad of any responsibility for the loss by assuring him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV).

Little did they know how right they were. Their defeat had been the result of divine intervention, but geographic location had played no role in it. Yahweh was the God of the hills and the valleys. He was sovereign over all the earth. Unlike their false gods, Yahweh was unbound by time and space. The extent of His power was limitless. To the God of Israel, the location and the size of the opposing army made no difference. And so, when Ben-hadad’s advisors counseled him to rebuild his army and restructure his military command, it would prove to be futile advice. They had no idea what they were dealing with and their ignorance led them to make some very dangerous assumptions. First, they assumed that the God of Israel was similar to their own gods – limited in power and vulnerable to defeat. After all, their gods had failed to deliver them. So, if they could find Yahweh’s weak spots, the next battle would go their way.

And Ben-hadad, eager to avenge his loss, took their advice and spent the winter rebuilding his army. He replaced the 32 kings with seasoned military commanders. He ordered the construction of new chariots. And he made plans to take the fight to the valley, where the God of Israel would have no power and play no role in the outcome of the battle.

It is fascinating to consider that all of this was in the sovereign will of God. He had orchestrated all the details concerning the original battle, including Ben-hadad’s escape. God had even told Ahab that the Syrians would return. Ben-hadad’s rebuilding and reconfiguring of his army had been part of God’s plan. The original battle had been intended to restore the Israelites’ belief in God. Prior to their victory, God had told them, “I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:13 ESV).

But God knew that little had changed in Israel. Even after their miraculous defeat of the Syrians, the people still remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s status as the one true God. When spring rolled around, they found themselves facing their former foe again. This time, Beh-hadad showed up with a much larger and better-equipped army than before, and rather than laying siege to the city, they gathered in the Valley of Aphek. Ben-hadad had brought a bigger, better army and had chosen a battleground that was outside the reach of Yahweh’s power. Or so he thought.

The stage was set. The enemy of Israel had returned. And the author paints a rather bleak and foreboding picture of the situation.

Israel then mustered its army, set up supply lines, and marched out for battle. But the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the vast Aramean forces that filled the countryside! – 1 Kings 20:27 NLT

Here was Israel, outnumbered and underequipped yet again. They were no match for the Syrians. And this time, they would not have the walls of the city to protect them. They would be fighting on open terrain, facing an army equipped with chariots and horses and motivated by revenge.

But God sent another prophet with a promise of His presence and power.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Despite the overwhelming odds, God would provide another victory over their enemy. By the time this day was over, they would know that He was the one true God. But notice that in verse 28, the author leaves out Ahab’s name again. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” God was going to deliver this victory despite Ahab, not because of him. Not only did Ahab deserve to lose this battle, but he also deserved to die for his blatant rebellion against God. But God was acting on behalf of His covenant people. He was doing this to protect the integrity and honor of His name. He had made covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had given His word to Moses and David. And while Ahab had failed to use his position as the shepherd of Israel to lead them in faithful obedience, God would prove Himself true to His word and committed to His covenant promises.

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

Worth the Wait

When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. – Micah 5:5b-6 ESV

When studying any of the prophetic books found in the Bible, the first question that must be asked is, “Has this content of this prophecy already been fulfilled?” Virtually all of the prophetic books contain both short- and long-term prophecies, some of which were fulfilled during the lifetimes of the authors of those books. Jeremiah prophesied the coming invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then lived to experience it, even writing a letter to the Jews who had been taken captives and exiled to Babylon.

Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. – Jeremiah 29:1 NLT

But Jeremiah also prophesied about events that have yet to take place. Like his fellow prophets, he was given divinely-inspired revelations that pertained to the future of God’s people and the final fate of the entire world. So, in looking at verses 5-6 of Micah 5, it is important to ask whether the prophecy it contains has already been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.”

In approximately 740 BC, God sent the Assyrians to invade the northern kingdom of Israel, as a means to punish them for their sin and rebellion against Him. It all began with the three tribes that had settled east of the Jordan River: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manassah.

But these tribes were unfaithful to the God of their ancestors. They worshiped the gods of the nations that God had destroyed. So the God of Israel caused King Pul of Assyria (also known as Tiglath-pileser) to invade the land and take away the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh as captives. The Assyrians exiled them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan River, where they remain to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 NLT

Then, nearly 20 years later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians renewed their assault on Israel, conquering the capital city of Samaria and taken many of its citizens as captives.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:5-7 NLT

Two decades later, in 701 BC, the Assyrians would attempt to expand their empire by attacking the southern kingdom of Judah. At that time, King Hezekiah was ruling in Judah and, unlike his predecessors, he had instituted a series of religious reforms intended to restore the nation’s allegiance to and trust in God.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful. – 2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT

During his reign, he received news that the Assyrians had entered the land of Judah and were laying siege to many of its prominent towns.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. When Hezekiah realized that Sennacherib also intended to attack Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military advisers, and they decided to stop the flow of the springs outside the city. – 2 Chronicles 32:1-3 NLT

King Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah and the people of Judah, mocking their God and demanding that they surrender or suffer the consequences.

“What makes you think your God can rescue you from me? Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you! Don’t let him fool you like this! I say it again—no god of any nation or kingdom has ever yet been able to rescue his people from me or my ancestors. How much less will your God rescue you from my power!” – 2 Chronicles 32:14-15 NLT

But rather than panic, Hezekiah prayed, asking God to intervene on their behalf.

Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven. And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:20-21 NLT

So, with all that as a backdrop, what could verses 5-6 of Micah 5 be talking about? Is Micah addressing the failed invasion of Judah by the Assyrians that took place in 701 BC? The details contained in this prophecy describe an event that remains as yet unfulfilled. Micah is giving a Spirit-inspired glimpse into the distant future – the “latter days” he talked about in chapter 4. He is describing events that will take place in the closing days of the Great Tribulation, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ.

During the second half of the 7-year period of time known as the Tribulation, the world leader known as the Antichrist will use the power given to him by Satan to persecute the chosen people of God – the Jewish people. And, like the King Sennacherib of Assyrian in Hezekiah’s day, Antichrist will seek to capture and destroy the city of Jerusalem.

Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming when your possessions will be plundered right in front of you! I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Zechariah 14:1-5 NLT

The people of Micah’s day had first-hand knowledge of the Assyrians and their power. By referring to this future enemy as Assyrians, Micah knows that his audience will sense the inherent danger and understand that these are God-mocking, idol-worshiping pagans who seek to destroy the city of God and His chosen people.

But Micah assures them that, when this day comes, the people of God will have more than enough men capable of leading them in victory over their enemies.

…we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men – Micah 5:5 ESV

The number seven is the number for wholeness or completion. They will have just the right number of leaders – plus one. And, as Zechariah points out in his prophecy, they will have the Messiah fighting on their behalf.

While the people of Judah would escape defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, they would eventually fall to the Babylonians. Their shepherds and princes would fail them. But the day is coming when the city of Jerusalem will come under siege once again, attacked by all the godless nations of the world that will be led by the Antichrist. But they will fail. Why? Because God is going to raise up a deliverer. Remember what Micah said in the opening verses of this chapter.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel… – Micah 5:2 ESV

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. – Micah 5:4 ESV

And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:5 ESV

And when the nations gather to defeat and destroy Jerusalem and the people of Israel, this divine Deliverer will appear on the scene, bringing the final victory over the enemies of God.

and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. – Micah 5:6 ESV

And Zechariah provides an exclamation point to this prophetic statement regarding God’s future and final deliverance of His people.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

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

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

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

Yet, I Will Wait Quietly

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.
16  I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:8-16 ESV

Habakkuk continues his recitation of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel, and his objective seems quite apparent. By recounting the various stories from Israel’s past that illustrate God’s power and sovereignty, Habakkuk is reminding himself and his readers that they have nothing to fear. Their God has a long and illustrious record of dominating victories over the natural order and human opposition.

He starts by describing God’s anger against the rivers and the sea. This is likely a reference to the Nile, the Jordan River, and the Red Sea. In all three cases, God had displayed His sovereign power over these bodies of water by performing miraculous acts of transformation. In the first of the plagues God brought against the Egyptians, He had commanded Moses to turn the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood.

In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 ESV

Habakkuk rhetorically asks, “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea…?” (Habakkuk 3:8 ESV). And the answer is, “No!” God was not displaying His wrath against the Nile, but He was using it as a way to display His unsurpassed power to the stubborn Egyptians and the reluctant Israelites. Moses had warned Pharaoh that, unless he released the people of Israel, their God would act on their behalf and the Egyptians would get a painful lesson concerning God’s power.

Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. – Exodus 7:17 ESV

But despite God’s display of power, Pharaoh proved resistant and continued to refuse the repeated requests of Moses to release the people of Israel. So, God brought another ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. And when the death of the firstborn finally forced Pharoah to reluctantly acquiesce and set the Israelites free, God had one more miracle in store that would finalize His redemptive plan for Israel. At the waters of the Red Sea, God provided another remarkable display of His sovereign power.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV

After Pharaoh had finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, they had made it as far as the Red Sea, when Pharaoh had another change of heart and sent his army to recapture them. When the Israelites became aware of their hopeless circumstance, “they feared greatly…and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 ESV). And then they complained to Moses, expressing their regret at having allowed him to convince them to leave Egypt. But Moses assured them that God was not done yet.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

And the salvation of God took the form of the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army with all its chariots. But not only that, God used those very same waters to destroy the Egyptians, bringing their 400 years of captivity and subjugation to a climactic end.

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. – Exodus 14:27-28 ESV

And Habakkuk, in recalling this fateful event in Israel’s history, points out that God had not been angry with the waters of the Red Sea, but He had simply used this natural barrier as a tool to accomplish His divine will for His chosen people. Habakkuk leaves not doubt as to God’s intent: “you were sending your chariots of salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:8 NLT).

And years later, God would repeat this miraculous event when the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, the eastern border of the land of Canaan. They had arrived when the river was at flood stage, creating a natural barrier the prevented them from crossing over into the land that God had provided as their inheritance. But, as always, God had a plan in place.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior, brandishing His bow and using the arrows from His quiver to split the earth with rivers” (Habakkuk 3:9 ESV). This imagery portrays God’s creation of the rivers and seas as an act of war, as He sovereignly ordained these natural resources to be part of His redemptive plan. He had placed each of them right where they were for a reason. He had divinely prepared them for the role they would play in the future salvation of Israel. And Habakkuk describes the rest of nature as spectators to God’s war-like creation of the rivers and seas.

The mountains watched and trembled.
    Onward swept the raging waters.
The mighty deep cried out,
    lifting its hands in submission.
The sun and moon stood still in the sky
    as your brilliant arrows flew
    and your glittering spear flashed. – Habakkuk 3:10-11 NLT

Habakkuk personifies the mountains, and even the planets, as silent witness to God’s actions, reacting with appropriate awe and fear at what they see. In Habakkuk’s creative representation of God’s redemptive work, He pictures the Almighty as a powerful warrior making His way across the landscape, leaving a wake of destruction in His path, as He rescues His anointed ones from their enemies.

You marched across the land in anger
    and trampled the nations in your fury.
You went out to rescue your chosen people,
    to save your anointed ones.
You crushed the heads of the wicked
    and stripped their bones from head to toe. – Habakkuk 3:12-13 NLT

This imagery had to have put a smile on Habakkuk’s face. Faced with the dismal circumstances taking place in Judah, and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk relished the idea of God wreaking havoc on their enemies.

In recalling God’s defeat of the Egyptians at the waters of the Red Sea, Habakkuk found the comfort and encouragement he needed to face his current circumstances. Yes, all looked lost. The enemy was bearing down on them. It appeared that they had no way of escape. And yet, there was always hope when God was involved.

With his own weapons,
    you destroyed the chief of those
who rushed out like a whirlwind,
    thinking Israel would be easy prey.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    and the mighty waters piled high. – Habakkuk 3:14-15 NLT

All those years ago, the Egyptians had showed up with their chariots and horses, ready to defeat and recapture the helpless Israelites. But things did not turn out as expected.

The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:23-25 ESV

God used their weapons against them. The wheels of their heavy chariots became bogged down in the mud. Trapped by the muck and the mire, their horses unable to move, the Egyptians were little more than sitting ducks. They had trampled the sea with their horses, but God had piled high the mighty waters. And then, the “waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28 ESV).

And when the waters had receded, the Israelites discovered that their great God had delivered a mighty victory.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. – Exodus 14:30 ESV

And Habakkuk describes himself as being visibly shaken by his recollection of God’s past deliverance of His people. If God could do it then, Habakkuk knew God could do it again.

I trembled inside when I heard this;
    my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
    and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 NLT

His confidence in God restored, Habakuk expresses his willingness to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Rather than being dismayed at the circumstances facing Judah, Habakkuk trembled at the thought of what God would one day do on their behalf.

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

And All Ends Well

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. Micah 5:1-6 ESV

One of the things that makes reading this section of Micah’s prophecy so difficult is that his timeline seems to be all over the place. One minute he is talking about end times events that remain as yet unfulfilled, and then, suddenly, he seems to be refocusing the lens of prophecy on more recent, yet still future events.

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 5 is actually the last verse of chapter 4. If you recall, chapter 4 ends with these words:

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

This is meant to be a message of comfort and joy, telling the people of Judah and Jerusalem that there is a day in their future when the table will turn and they will become the conqueror rather than the conquered. But before that can take place, something else must occur.

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!
    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.
They will strike Israel’s leader
    in the face with a rod. – Micah 5:1 NLT

Before the good news can be experienced, the bad news will have to take place. It’s as if Micah is refocusing the lens of the camera and allowing the people of Judah to see what is much closer on the prophetic timeline. The enemy was close at hand. Babylon was going to lay siege to Jerusalem and their leader/judge was going to suffer ignominy at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his forces. The prophet Jeremiah describes the end of Zedekiah’s reign.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down, and all the soldiers fled. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:3-11 NLT

This would be the beginning of the end. The Babylonians would destroy the temple of God, slaughter the priests, and take thousands of the cities inhabitants as captives back to Babylon.

But then, just as quickly as he has prophesied bad news, Micah shifts the focus back to the far-distant future and describes the coming of another king. From the small and relatively obscure town of Bethlehem, will come another, greater ruler.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

This king would be born in the town of Bethlehem (House of Bread) in the region formerly known as Ephrathah (Fruitful). Bethlehem was the birthplace of another king of Israel, David, the man after God’s own heart. But Micah is prophesying about a time in the future when another man who shares God’s heart will be sent by God to rule over Israel. And centuries later, Matthew would make the obvious connection between Micah’s prophecy and the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
   who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

In verses 3-5, Micah collapses thousands of years of history into three short lines. Writing while under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Micah was being given a vision he could not fully comprehend. He was explaining future events that would span millenniums and include everything from Jesus’s first advent to His second coming.

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
    And he will be the source of peace. – Micah 5:3-5 NLT

The Israelites would find themselves living under the oppressive rule of their enemies all the way up until the point that Jesus was born. He would arrive on the scene at the height of Rome’s rule over Judah and the surrounding region. And even long after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the nation of Israel would remain like sheep without a shepherd. Many of the Jews would be scattered abroad, forced to live outside the land of promise. And even to this day, the vast majority of the Jews live outside the nation of Israel.

But Micah speaks of a day when they will return from exile to their own land. And they will be led by this future king, the Messiah, who will become their source of strength and peace. He will provide for them the security, safety, and significance for which they have longed. This will all be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in chapter 4.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

Micah is being given a glimpse into the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal thousand-year period of time when Jesus will return to earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign in righteousness from the throne of David. The book of Revelation provides a glimpse into this future day and how it will come about.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. – Revelation 20:2-6 NLT

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ will be marked by peace, righteousness, justice, and mercy. He will rule over the world as the holy, God-appointed King of kings and Lord of lords. And it will be in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with David.

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as their righteous ruler, the people of God will have nothing to fear. At the point in time when Micah was penning these words, the Assyrians were the greatest threat to the people of Israel. The Babylonians had not yet arrived on the scene, and the Assyrians were throwing around their weight in the region, and would eventually defeat the northern kingdom of Israel. But Micah speaks of another Assyrian conquest, far into the future, when invaders would attempt to defeat the nation of Israel once again, but their efforts would fail.

These invaders will find Israel being led by the Messiah, and the King will guide His people to victory over their enemies. They will have more than enough shepherds and princes to lead the people. And they will have the Son of God as their champion, leading them in battle against the nations of the earth.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. – Zechariah 14:3 NLT

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The story of Israel has a very happy ending. And while Micah was not privy to all the details, he was faithful to proclaim the good news concerning God’s future plans for the nation of Israel. And the apostle John was given the privilege of witnessing the final stage in God’s victory over Satan and his forces as Jesus, the Messiah and King, delivers the final blow.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 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