Day 207: Isaiah 35-37; Historical Interlude

While today’s reading is over Isaiah 35-37, we are actually going to talk through Isaiah 36-39, a historical interlude within the prophetic book of Isaiah.  As I said yesterday, we’ve talked extensively about the judgments on the nations surrounding Israel, and today we see a part of that coming to pass.  While the full conquering of Judah and Jerusalem doesn’t actually come until later, with Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian military actually exiling the people of Judah, the Assyrian Crisis is certainly not something that the Israelites would shrug off.  It was foretold by Isaiah in chapter 8 and is recorded in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 32.

Sennacherib‘s invasion started in the Northern Kingdom, resulting in the complete and total decimation of the kingdom and the permanent deportation of its people.  While eventually the people of Judah would be able to return after their exile, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel would never be heard from again.  In some ways this is an example of the finality of the judgment that we talked about yesterday.  Sennacherib doesn’t stop there though and continues into the nation of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, and conquers all of the cities except Jerusalem.  This too was foretold by Isaiah and what we see is the very example that Isaiah has been talking about, the example of what happens when a people turns to the Lord.

Isaiah prays to the Lord and the Lord hears his prayer.  This is recorded in chapter 37 and shows both the greatness of the Lord and His strength.  It also shows the true character of God who is once again quick to forgive and slow to condemn.  Judah repents and the Lord relents from the coming disaster.

For more on this, please reference 2 Chronicles 30-32: Hezekiah’s Reign and 2 Kings 18-20: Hezekiah, King of Judah.  This look more in depth at the reign of Hezekiah and the invasion of Sennacherib.

Even in this story though, one of God’s victory over the strongest army in the world, we see an example of King Hezekiah still placing his focus on the wrong thing.  After Assyria has been defeated and the Lord has cured him from disease, he still is looking in the wrong places for influence.  Babylon sends envoys and, while there is no word from Isaiah about not seeing them, Hezekiah seems to be over eager to impress these messengers from a new up-and-coming world power.  We read that he “gladly shows them everything in his storehouses,” something that Isaiah later points out was probably not a good idea.  At the end of this interlude, Isaiah pulls it all together prophesying about the coming invasion of Babylon and bringing us back to the judgment coming on Jerusalem.  The stage is set and the characters are set in motion for the coming judgment and, as we have heard so often these past few days, the coming hope in the days that follow.

 



Day 132: 2 Chronicles 30-32; Hezekiah's Reign

If we take a look at the chart from yesterday, we see that Hezekiah‘s reign was a complete 180 degree turn from his father Ahaz.  He actually turns out to be one of the best Kings in Israel, second only to Josiah, who we’ll read about in the next two days, because of the amount of reforms that take place in Judah during his reign.  Right from the get-go Hezekiah goes after cleaning up the temple and getting things back in order so that the people that worship the one true God once again.  He tells the priests to consecrate themselves and the Temple as well.  They do so happily and offer so many sacrifices that there isn’t enough priests to do all the sacrificing!

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover
Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Second, Hezekiah reinstate the Passover Celebration which, if you remember back in 2 Kings, hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the Judges.  This is an important celebration for the whole of the people of Israel, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms in that it was commanded by God in Exodus 12 to be kept every year for all generations.  It might have been kind of understandable for the people not to keep this during some of the bad seasons that they endured, like the evil king Ahaz or others like him.  But to find out that they had been completely unfaithful in following the command of God and hadn’t practiced it since the time of the Judges (several hundred years earlier)??? wow… just wow…

I think in many ways this is a confirmation of the Hebrew idea of backing into the future, the notion of the Hebrew concept of time and identity that we talked about that the beginning of 1 Chronicles.  The locus of their identity was found in who they were as a people.  This was especially true of them as a people of faith, chosen by God to be a nation that was to represent God to the rest of the world.  Apart from the narrative of God’s choosing Abraham and calling him out of the land of Ur in Genesis 12, the Exodus was really the defining moment in Hebrew history.  This moment was surrounded by God’s power on both sides, from the killing of the first born to the crossing of the Red Sea.  In reality, if the people of God weren’t remember this, they were likely not remembering the true nature of their identity.  Not knowing who you are makes it a lot easier for the things around you to define you.  This may be one of the reasons that the people of God continually fell into sin.

Sennacherib's Siege on Jerusalem Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

Sennacherib’s Siege on Jerusalem
Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

If we follow in this, we see the strength that comes with remembering who you are and living into it.  When Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invades Judah, the people could have crumbled in fear before him, turned to other gods, or just plain given up.  Yet that doesn’t happen here… not in the slightest.  Hezekiah not only leaps into action making physical preparations for war, he also makes spiritual preparations, reassuring the people of who they are and whose they are.  They are not where they are today because of what they have done, but because of the blessing of the Lord and His continual faithfulness.  Sennacherib may say whatever he wants to say about God, but as Paul so eloquently writes many hundreds of years later in Galatians 6, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  The people of God stand firm in their faith to God and God is faithful, as He always is, to His people as well.

It is interesting that this particular passage would come up on a Sunday, during the Easter season, when we have celebrated one of the 3 high points of the Christian year and are about to celebrate another.  In a time that the Church is struggling to find its identity in a changing culture, we are reminded today of the power and faithfulness of God in times of trouble.  We celebrate our identity in the risen Lord on Easter and yet we struggle day after day, week after week with the many things that would otherwise seek to define us.  While I am not saying that this shouldn’t be a struggle, it absolutely is a struggle… we are about to celebrate another major identifying mark of our faith: PENTECOST.  Next Sunday, a week from today, we will gather to remember that our Risen Lord did not leave us on earth to fend for ourselves, but that the Holy Spirit has been given to us as a seal of Christ in us.  We do not face the hordes of evil in this world alone.  No… we walk every day with the Spirit of God in our hearts and in our minds, that we may stand up to the whatever Sennacheribs we might encounter knowing that God is forever faithful and always with us.



Day 131: 2 Chronicles 26-29; Uzziah through Hezekiah

Again today we encounter a great deal of contrasts in the reading.  We see the greatness of Uzziah and Jotham set next to the horrid abominations of the acts of Ahaz, which are then made right through the work of King Hezekiah in the first year of his reign.  In many ways, the narrative that we read today is much like the narratives that we have been reading through out the history of the Kingdom of Judah.  Some of the kings are good, and some are bad.  When the kings do what is right in the eyes of the Lord there is a great deal of blessing and prosperity that comes about in Judah.  However, when the kings do not do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, calamity ensues  enemies attack, and the king is even forced to take articles from the temple of God and use them to pay tribute to other nations, a fitting image of exactly what is happening spiritually in these times too.  Rather than giving to the Lord in worship, turning their hearts towards God and using that which has been set up for them to worship God in the temple, the evil kings turn their hearts towards other God and use what they have been given to serve them.  It is very fitting then, albeit sad, that the temple itself, which is their center of worship, is stripped, broken apart, and sent off to other lands.

King Uzziah's Pride Photo Credit: www.biblestudyoutlines.org

King Uzziah’s Pride
Photo Credit: www.biblestudyoutlines.org

Today’s reading also includes a warning in the narrative of King Uzziah.  He is a great king and does incredibly awesome things for the Kingdom of Judah.  He follows God and and in return, God makes him strong.  All Judah’s enemies are subdued and the kingdom is blessed with great abundance in every way.  Yet we see in Uzziah’s foolish acts towards the end of his life, that in his strength he forgets the ultimate source of all that he has been given.  One might think that he is trying to offer incense out of the goodness and love of his heart to God who has made him strong, and that may very well be true.  However, in those days the law of the Lord was very clear about who was allowed in the temple, especially inside the temple, and who was allowed to offer sacrifices of that nature.  Even the person with the best intentions in Judah who wasn’t a priest was not allowed to be in there doing that.  This was an act for the priests who served as mediators for God.  The priests were set apart for this service as we read in Exodus and Leviticus.  Under no circumstances was Uzziah allowed to do this and, in reality, he is dishonoring God in this act.

The warning then comes in his punishment.  Rather than being repentant and leaving the Temple of God, Uzziah gets angry.  The Lord’s response is sad, but clear.  Uzziah, not recognizing who it is that has made him strong, and not being repentant in his sinful action, is struck with leprosy and thus cut off from the Lord and from the people that he is ruling.  He is made permanently unclean, an unfortunate punishment for the prideful sin that he commits.  In many ways Uzziah is the poster child for the phrase “pride goeth before the fall”

The Kings of Judah Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The Kings of Judah
Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The other narratives in today’s reading play out in a variety of different ways in Judah’s history.  Some would say that Ahaz is the worst king of Judah, which is mostly appropriate to date, and we see what that evil and turning away from God gets the people of Judah.  He even goes so far as to burn his son as an offering, an act that is described in the Bible as nothing less than a complete and total abomination in the sight of God.  Unfortunately though, Ahaz does not go down in history as being Judah’s worst king ever.  However, even in this instance we see that God is faithful in bringing His people back, despite the calamity that falls upon them.  This comes in the form of King Hezekiah, whose life we read about starting today and will continue tomorrow…



Day 112: 2 Kings 21-23; The Beginning of the End of Judah

The narrative of the Kingdom of Judah after Israel’s exile is that of stark contrasts in leadership and therefore the people’s following of God.  After we read about King Hezekiah, one of the greatest kings of God’s chosen people, we read about his son, Manasseh.  This is a narrative of contrasts.  Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, undoing all that his fathers had done before him.  Manasseh, on the other hand, undid all that King Hezekiah had accomplished and led the people of Israel down a road from which they would not be able to return.

English: Manasses was a king of the Kingdom of...

English: Manasses was a king of the Kingdom of Judah. He was the only son and successor of Hezekiah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manasseh was quite possibly one of the worst kings to ever rule over Judah.  I guess its one thing to inherit a kingdom of wickedness and just continue in it, but it is an entirely other thing to assume the throne of a kingdom that has been righted of its wrongs by your father, and then go after everything that had just been abolished.  Manasseh really had it made as far as the Kingdom of Judah was concerned.  His father had fixed everything, torn down all the idols and gotten rid of all the of the idol worshipers and such, yet he turned out wicked, incredibly wicked.  He shed innocent blood.  He rebuild alters and idols.  He even placed idols of Asherah in the Temple of the Lord.  In fact, he was so wicked that his actions provoked the Lord to anger in such a way that He pronounced the same judgment of Exile that He pronounced on Israel.

When Amon, the son of Manasseh, takes over, I’m sure you were hoping and praying that things would get better.  However, they didn’t.  Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, Amon was assassinated by his servants after two years and was replaced by his 8 year old son Josiah.  Its pretty sad when people think that an 8 year old can run a kingdom better than  you can.

King Josiah hears the Law Photo Credit: http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/Pictures/Divided%20Kingdom%20Artwork/target1.html

King Josiah hears the Law
Photo Credit: www.lavistachurchofchrist.org

Josiah is the contrast to both Amon and Manasseh.  Like Hezekiah, Josiah is a good king.  In fact, he is a great king!  Scripture says that he did not turn from the ways of the Lord to the right or to the left.  He put forth money to rebuild the temple and during that process, the priests discovered the book of the Law of Moses.  It is interesting to think that the people of God, even those living in Jerusalem and/or serving in the Temple of the Lord had somehow lost this very precious thing.  So they examine it and read it and when they do they are cut to the heart.  Josiah weeps before the Lord and tears his clothes.  He realizes instantly how sinful they have been.  Josiah then devotes the rest of his life to setting things straight.  He does again what Hezekiah did, which was undone by Manasseh.  The idols are torn down, the idol worshipers are removed.  He kills all the priests of the false gods.  AND… King Josiah reinstates the Passover!!!  We read here that it hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the judges… that would be several hundred years at least.  Do you remember what God said about the Passover when it was first instituted?  Exodus 12:14 says,

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.

Seems like the people of God have forgotten their past, their history… their heritage.  It was God who got them to where they are now, and for hundreds of years they have just ignored it.  I wonder if this is something that has happened in the Church today… or even in our country.  I won’t go so far as to say this is a Christian nation, but I think that in many ways, it was believers that founded this country.  That’s not to say that we are perfect.  It was believers (some of them anyway) that committed some of the horrible atrocities against the native peoples of this land.  Yet many people came here seeking the ability and freedom to worship and serve God as they felt called.  Some 400 years later, the Church is in a steady decline and it seems that Christianity doesn’t matter anymore.  I wonder if we’ve forgotten our legacy… who brought us here… or why we are even here at all.

You see, the Church’s legacy isn’t America.  The Church’s history is not Western power or cultural influence.  The Church’s message is not the lights, the music, the “authentic community” or anything else that we can cleverly conjure up to make ourselves more relevant.  THE CHURCH’S LEGACY IS JESUS CHRIST.  He is our only message, our only hope, our only savior.  We are here today because of what He did for us 2,000 years ago.  Not because of what we have done, but because of what He did for us.  It is time we wake up and realize who we are… and whose we are…



Day 111: 2 Kings 18-20; Hezekiah, King of Judah

Ezechias-Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the ...

Ezechias-Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the 14th king of Judah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the narrative of Israel continues on… However things are forever changed in the land of Canaan.  Hezekiah has risen to the throne of Judah, another king in the line of David, and he is a good king.  As a matter of fact, Hezekiah is one of the best kings of Judah and Israel since king David.  King Hezekiah, we are told, does something that all the kings before him, even the good ones, does not do.  He is fully committed to the Lord and because of it, he tears down all of the high places, and rids the land of Judah of all the idols and false gods that have been present.  He even destroys the bronze serpent that Moses made in the desert some 500 or so years prior, recorded in Numbers 21.  The Bible speaks these words of him, words that we have not heard since the time of David,

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.  For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses.  And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.

The remainder of this story has to do with the continuing exploits of the Assyrian military and their quest to conquer the known world.  They were, in many ways, a prototype of the coming Empires to rule this area from the Middle East to Europe.  Egypt, in many ways, was the first of these prototypes and Israel, under the rule of King David and Solomon was the second, at least of what was mentioned in the Biblical narrative.

Unlike some of the kings that had gone before him in Israel and in Judah, Hezekiah looks to the Lord and to His power for protection against Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  The reality of the sityation was that there was no possible human way that Judah could have stood up to the Assyrian Military might.  He was, for all intents and purposes, doomed, and Sennacherib knew it.  The king of Assyria taunted Hezekiah, mocking God and any other nation that would stand up to him.  Brave and pride filled words that may have been spoken a bit too soon.

Sennacherib's Siege on Jerusalem Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

Sennacherib’s Siege on Jerusalem
Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu

Instead of caving to the pressure that Sennacherib was putting on Him, Hezekiah cries out to God who responds through the prophet Isaiah.  God does a mighty work in Judah by protecting them from the Assyrians, killing almost 200,000 of them in one night.  I think though, that this is not the main focus of this particular narrative that we have come upon.  What God says through Isaiah about Judah is simply amazing.  He recalls what Judah has done, how they have strayed from the presence of the Lord and have not followed Him… yet the Lord has been provoked to anger over the words of Sennacherib and He stands up for His Children for they have turned to Him in their time of need.

God goes even further to say that this has all been planned long ago, that all this would come to pass.  He planned that Assyria would rise to power, but he also planned that they would not take over Judah.  For God knows the actions and the evil that the Assyrians have done and He will not stand for it any longer.  It is interesting to see how God works in the ways that He does.  He has allowed for this situation to come about, for these things to happen in Israel and in Judah.  However, there is a limit.  One can only go so far, and Assyria has come to that point.

It kind of makes me think about some of the current situations we have found ourselves in today.  Bombings in Boston.  Explosions that level parts of communities.  War and rebellion in many countries.  Questionable leadership (no matter what party you support).  Yet God has allowed each of these things to happen for one reason or another.  I would not presume to know the mind of the Lord or speak for Him, but I do know that God has not changed and He still hears the cries of His people throughout the world.  Perhaps today we are reminded that our hope lies in God alone, and it is Him who we should seek in our time of need.  May we look to Him today, tomorrow, and always!