Saturday, 17 May 2014

(138) May 18: 2 Kings 18-19 & John 6:22-44

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider Hezekiah’s qualities.

To ponder:
A wicked father doesn’t necessarily mean a wicked son. So Ahaz, Judah’s worst king is followed by Hezekiah, Judah’s best. He went beyond others, doing as David did and finally removing all objects of false worship. Indeed, he “trusted” and so obeyed God like no other king. The LORD was therefore with him so he succeeded in everything.
            Nevertheless, when Assyria captured all Judah’s fortified cities because Hezekiah rebelled against them, Hezekiah said he’d done wrong and paid the Assyrian king to withdraw with riches from the temple. In the light of what follows, we are probably to understand this as a surprising lapse of faith.
            Sennacherib, the Assyrian king sent a large army to Jerusalem. His top men addressed Hezekiah, his administrator, and his recorder, who presumably recorded the speech. Its dominant theme is to question Hezekiah’s “dependence” on the LORD, potentially sowing doubt. The commander assumes Hezekiah is relying on Egypt, who, he says, will only bring him harm. He also assumes Hezekiah has offended God by removing “his” high places and requiring everyone to worship in Jerusalem. He then declares God had sent him against Judah (and the LORD had used Assyria against Israel). Hezekiah’s men ask the commander to speak in Aramaic so those on Jerusalem’s wall don’t understand. This prompts him to continue in Hebrew and address the people directly, telling them Hezekiah can’t deliver them and that they shouldn’t be persuaded to trust the LORD. In the Assyrian king’s name he then offers the people a clear alternative to God’s covenant: a prosperous land if they make peace and “choose life” (see Deut 30v9-20). He repeats that none of the gods of other countries had been able to save their peoples. Throughout, the Assyrian king is like Satan who breeds doubt and falsely promises all sorts of goods that only God can ensure. The speech raises the question as to who is truly able to save.
            Rather than seek an alliance or try to pay more, Hezekiah responds as every previous king should have done. He mourns and turns to God by going to the temple and God’s prophet. He isn’t certain God will act, perhaps because of Judah’s history. But his concern is that God is being ridiculed, and he asks Isaiah to pray for the “remnant” – a key term, describing the small group of God’s people still surviving. God’s response is immediate. He tells Hezekiah not to fear, acknowledges that he has heard what the Assyrians said, and promises he will ensure the commander returns to his country where he will be cut down for his blasphemy. The record of this happening is almost complacent (19v8), stressing how easy it is for the LORD to deliver his people.
            It seems that the Assyrian army remains. Hearing that Egypt are advancing against him, Sennacherib, possibly worried about an alliance, sends messengers with a letter urging Hezekiah not to depend on the LORD, and again pointing to the defeat of the gods of other nations. Once more Hezekiah goes to the temple, spreading the letter out before God. And this time he prays, rightly acknowledging God is “over” all kingdoms and that the gods of other nations are mere idols. Provoked that God is being insulted, he prays for deliverance, but not primarily for Judah’s sake, but so “all the kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” Likewise, our prayers are to reflect the greatest prayer: “Hallowed be your name.”
Isaiah brings word God has heard Hezekiah. The people of Jerusalem are a “Virgin daughter” mocking the Assyrian king because he has so proudly raised his voice against her, holy, and so supremely majestic, God. Indeed, God declares the king has only achieved what he has because God “ordained” it. The “hook” and “bit” refer to how Assyria would lead captives away like animals. So God promises that “for the sake of David” he will drag Assyria back, ensuring they will not besiege Jerusalem. And although food will initially be scarce, God’s provision from the land in the next two years will be a sign that a surviving “remnant” will then enjoy the fruit of the land again. Immediately, “that night,” this happens. God’s angel miraculously kills 185,000 of the Assyrian army, so Sennacherib withdraws and is later assassinated. God is well able to deliver those who turn to him.

Praying it home:
Praise God for that he is fully able to save and that no power can stand against him. Pray that you and others you know would not be tempted to doubt, looking anywhere but to him for salvation.

Thinking further:
None today.

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