Monday, 6 October 2014

(280) October 7: Isaiah 36-39 & Philippians 3

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

To discover:­
As you read note how Hezekiah and the people would have been tempted to doubt God.

To ponder:
These chapters record the historical event that much of the book to this point has been predicting, which also illustrates the point Isaiah has been making: We should trust God not man.
            Much repeats 2 Kings 18v13-20v19 (see notes there for more detailed comment). As Isaiah had predicted, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked and captured the fortified cities of Judah. But God protected Jerusalem, responding to Hezekiah’s prayer by sending an angel to put to death 180,000 of the Assyrian army camped around the city, causing the king to withdraw, before later being assassinated in the temple of his god. Critical is the Assyrian commander’s taunt of Hezekiah in the hearing of the residents of Jerusalem: In the name of Assyria’s king, he asks “on what” Hezekiah is basing his “confidence” (36v4), describing Egypt as a splintered staff that cannot therefore bear the weight of Judah’s hopes, but that will eventually pierce her hand (36v6). Assuming Hezekiah’s destruction of the means of idol worship would offend God, the commander also questions his reliance on the LORD (36v7). And so he offers an alternative alliance with Assyria, and claims that the LORD had told Assyria to march against the country – which to some extent was true (36v8-10). He then urges the people not to let Hezekiah persuade them to trust the LORD to deliver them, promising that a treaty with Assyria would result in the sort of peace and prosperity that God himself had promised in the covenant (36v16-17). The tension and temptation couldn’t be clearer. And the same one lies behind every struggle we face in life, and especially our battle with sin and Satan.
            Hezekiah’s response is a model. He mourns and prays, and leads his officials to do so too. And God’s response through Isaiah is that he and his people need not fear the king of Assyria, as God will cause him to return to his country where he will be assassinated (37v1-7). Nevertheless, when the king of Assyria heard Egypt was advancing to fight him, he sent a letter to Hezekiah urging him not to believe God’s word in promising Jerusalem’s safety (37v9-13). But again, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer for deliverance, motivated by a desire that all the watching kingdoms of the earth would know that he alone is God (37v 14-20). Isaiah’s response declares that what the king of Assyria was boasting in, he only managed because God had first ordained it. And because he was raging against God, God would lead him away like his slave. Isaiah then goes on to promise Judah will again thrive as a land, a remnant will survive, and the city will be saved because of God’s promise that David’s descendents will forever reign there (37v22-35). It is then that we read of the army and Assyrian king being put to death. The point is that the most powerful gods and the most powerful men and nations, are nothing against the true and mighty God.
            The record of Hezekiah’s deliverance from illness may be included to highlight our ultimate need of God to deliver us from the curse of the fall, rather than the power of oppressors, which has been a theme throughout the previous oracles. Certainly, the sign whereby God caused the sun’s shadow to go back rather than forward stresses he is the creator who governs all creation. The record of Hezekiah’s prayer (38v10-20) in response to his healing is not recorded in 2 Kings, and so makes more of his healing, perhaps for this reason. Hezekiah notes how he looked at death asking whether he would no longer see God at work in the land of the living or be with mankind. He describes his decline as like a temporary tent being pulled down (see Paul describing our bodies like this, 2 Cor 4v4), or a tapestry being completed. He also notes how he felt God was breaking his bones like a lion, and how he cried out for aid. Yet noting God responded by sending word and then healing him, Hezekiah promises to live humbly before God, presumably in recognising that his life is wholly dependent on God and not himself. He recognizes that it is by such humility that people live, because they constantly look to the LORD. And so he concludes that his anguish was ultimately to his own benefit and so an expression of God’s love and grace in not treating him as his sins deserved. This means that Hezekiah’s praise of God’s faithfulness, is not just of God’s readiness to heal him, but of him using the illness to humble him too. This attitude teaches much as to how we can view trials God puts us through. And in context it was surely a lesson to Judah, that having been delivered from her anguish before Assyria, she should learn humility and trust in God. It actually led Hezekiah to renewed confidence that God would save him in the future too (38v20). And because he knew he had only fifteen years to live (38v5), he must have salvation from death itself in mind. Similarly, experiencing God use hardships for our good in deepening our reliance upon him gives us confidence that he will display that same faithfulness in our eventual salvation (Rom 8v28-39).
            Whether or not Hezekiah’s action in chapter 39 was selfish or just foolish, the chapter looks ahead to the second half of Isaiah, where the rise of Babylon as the new superpower is in mind. Here too, the people are going to have to trust the LORD. Similarly, having experienced God deliver us from a time of trial, he may soon test us again, to see whether we have learnt to be people of faith.
Praying it home:       
Praise God that he is wholly trustworthy and faithful. Pray that you stand firm in faith when trial comes.

Thinking further:
None today.

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