How do we respond when everything is going wrong. What do we do when the enemy is at our doorstep. Do we respond like the Israelites when first coming to the Promised Land? “There are giants! We can’t go in.” Perhaps we feel like little David before a great Goliath. Maybe we cower in fear like Elisha’s servant saying, “we are going to die! There is no way out!” What do we do when the odds are hopeless. All the options around us look helpless. This is an “Everyone is doing it” situation, but only because they are afraid. Everyone is giving up.
This is the situation that the nation of Judah was in. They saw the large kingdom of Israel to the north conquered by Assyria. The people have seen many times in their history a great army conquered by the smaller, a great God doing miracles in their sight… but not this time. This time God was not with them.
Israel “matured;” were no longer a band of wandering misfits in the desert. They could provide for their own needs. They had enough food, a mighty army, great walls hedging them in from any enemies that might come against them, a different god on every street corner. Their perceived maturity was foolishness. When in Israel’s history has the might of their own strength won a battle? When have they had plenty to no longer be concerned with need? It has always been the presence of God walking with them caring for them and clearing their way. But Israel forgot God, so He leaves them to their own devices. 2 Kings 17:18 says that because of the failure of the people to trust God, because they turned away from Him he “removed them from his presence.”
Here we see a shadow of Pharaoh being cast over the people. Pharaoh once hardened his own heart, refusing to listen to God, refusing to walk in his ways or to turn from his wickedness. He trusted in his own gods, the might of his army, the strength of his workforce to provide for his needs and protect him. Eventually God hardens his heart as the plagues continue in Egypt until his heart of stone cracks under the pressure. The Israelites have hardened their hearts again
Twelve judges came to draw the people back to God. One king after another led the people astray. God sent prophet after prophet, pleading with the people to turn back to him, stop trusting in their own ways… but they refused. Now comes the time for God to harden their heart, remove his presence from them and leave them to their our devices. He says, “if you really want to trust in your own resources, let’s put them to the test. And the northern kingdom of Israel fails the test.
If God would have fought for them they could have conquered their enemies. When the king of Assyria showed up at their doorstep with his army, it would have been nothing compared to the Army of the LORD… but they didn’t want his army. They wanted their own strength, their own ways. The prophet Isaiah speaks of their situation this way:
You, Lord, have abandoned your people,
the descendants of Jacob.
They are full of superstitions from the East;
they practice divination like the Philistines
and embrace pagan customs.
7 Their land is full of silver and gold;
there is no end to their treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
there is no end to their chariots.
8 Their land is full of idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their fingers have made.
A land of plenty: full of gold. A land of might: full of chariots and horses. A land of darkness: full of idols.
Now, we are left with the smaller country of Judah, the only tribe left faithful to God. They have had their fair share of bad kings, but the king that was on the throne during the time of Israel’s devastation returned to the heart of David. King Hezekiah was a good king. His father Ahaz was anything but. He shut down the temples and outlawed the worship of Jehovah. It became against the law to serve the God who has been with them for so long. He put up idols on every street corner. One of Hezekiah’s brothers was sacrificed to Moloch, a giant bull-headed god who required child sacrifice as a form of “tithe.” People would throw the children into his mouth and let them burn in his belly which was a giant furnace.
Hezekiah didn’t walk in the ways of his father, but turned the people back to God. 2 Chronicles 29:3-6 mention just some of the things that Hezekiah did at the beginning of his reign.
2 Chronicles 29:3-6
3 In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them. 4 He brought in the priests and the Levites, assembled them in the square on the east side 5 and said: “Listen to me, Levites! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary. 6 Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him.
He not only made it no longer illegal to worship the LORD, but encouraged it. Just as Jeroboam (many generations before) created his own religion, Hezekiah does so now, but it is not one of his own design. He re-created the religion designed by Jehovah for His people.
All this happens while Israel, their neighbours to the north, are being enslaved by the Assyrians. It isn’t too long until the Assyrians move south. Sennacherib, king of Assyria conquers many of cities in Judah on his way to the capital of Jerusalem. Hezekiah sees the army coming and so he sets out with a plan to dissuade the approaching enemy.
Jerusalem was a very vulnerable city. Their main water supply was the Gihon spring which lay outside of the walls. Any approaching army could surround the spring and effectively cut off the livelihood of the city. Then there would be no need to fight them. They just had to wait for the people to starve out. Hezekiah, recognizing this problem, leads an incredible feat of archaeological construction, channelling the water through an underground tunnel so that the water fed into a pool he dug in the centre of Jerusalem. He also repaired the city walls, built a second wall around the first to protect all the refugees that were camping around the city after fleeing south from the approaching Assyrians. Hezekiah raised watchtowers from which the remaining stronghold of Judah could spot the approaching enemy.
Not only does Hezekiah prepare himself physically, but also spiritually. Despite all these great walls and feats of archaeology, the army of Judah was a midget compared to the giant approaching. What does Hezekiah do when the enemy is coming to his doorstep? Cower in fear? Trust in the strength of his army? Rely on the walls to save him? No. He encourages the people the remember their history: to remember who it is who fights for them.
2 Chronicles 32:7-8
7 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.
Sennacherib only has an army of flesh. Those are just people marching against us. There is a greater power with us! It doesn’t lie in our army of flesh. That army is smaller than theirs. The northern nation of Israel relied on their own army to defeat the Assyrians, and they failed. They thought they didn’t need God any more, but Hezekiah urges the people of Judah to remember. We hear Joshua echoing in his words, “be strong and courageous.” It has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God.
There are some incredible truths in what Hezekiah does. 1st he does everything that he can to prepare for the approaching army. He doesn’t just sit on his hands and say, “God will save us!” He actively involves himself and his people in the work of the LORD, to prepare for what is coming. We can say, “God will do this or that,” or “God will protect me…” but that doesn’t negate our responsibility. It is like knowing that God will provide for our needs so instead of going out and looking for a job we sit at home and play video games. Hezekiah recognizes that he has a responsibility to act out of the faith that he has. God wants to walk with us through this life, not live life for us.
The second truth that Hezekiah proclaims is that, even though we prepare for God to do something, we don’t trust in our human ability to do it. It is God who will fight our battles, God who conquers, and God who provides for our needs. He says, “now that we have done all of this preparation, be strong and courageous is the LORD because He is the one who will protect us.
Though Hezekiah prepared the best way he knew how, by external appearances it wasn’t enough. The army approaching was still greater. They surrounded the city so that no would could escape. Sennacherib, in his own war accounts describes Jerusalem as a bird in a cage. Trapped. The scene looks bleak indeed.
Every sign points to a repeat of what Sennacherib did to the northern nation of Israel. The people already saw shackles around their wrists, felt the yokes of slavery about their necks. It was just a matter of time before Assyria would have them and a repeat of their Egyptian slavery would come in full force. In fact, the Assyrian king starts taunting them. He sends a messenger into the city with these words.
2 Chronicles 32:10-15
10 “This is what Sennacherib king of Assyria says: On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? 11 When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst. 12 Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god’s high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it’?
On what are you basing your confidence? You don’t even have places of worship on every street corner any more. You have have one temple. Just one god. See, Sennacherib is lumping Yahweh in with the rest of the false gods. He is saying, “the LORD is no different than Moloch, Baal, or Ashera. Hezekiah removed all these other gods from your presence… so if all these gods together couldn’t help you, what makes you think this one God will? How can you be confident in that?
13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”
Sennacherib is trying to get the people to focus on their surroundings. He says, “forget your history! Those are fables, falsehoods, glorious fiction at best. Look around you. See how we have conquered all these other peoples with their gods. How can you be confident in one god when many won’t do. Just give up.”
But where were the people placing their confidence? They believed in that which they could not see. They trusted in the still small voice of the wind that Elijah heard, knowing that if God is in the whisper of wind he is also in the tornado. They believed in the army of the LORD that was greater than this army of flesh before them. They had faith: trust, reliance, and dependance on the promises and provisions of Yahweh despite how dire their situation—all because of their leader Hezekiah who brought them back to the LORD. His great faith was their great confidence.
Have you ever been going through a situation that seemed hopeless. Your enemy was all encompassing. Perhaps you are drowning in the red bleeding from your bank account balance or feel the biting sting from your co-workers comments, your spouse, your kids. Maybe it is sin surrounding you, the Devil taunting you, “in what do you put your confidence? God doesn’t really love you! Look at how you’re treating him! He is done trying to save you. Just give up. Perhaps you need a reminder from Hezekiah this morning to be strong and courageous, not because there is anything special about you, but because there is everything special about God.
There is one more great truth that we can learn from the example of Hezekiah. How do we remind ourselves to have confidence? What is the power behind our strength and courage when the enemy is at our door step? God’s power practically intersects our life through prayer.
2 Chronicles 32:20-21
20 King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. 21 And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace.
When faced with trouble, Hezekiah gathers around him like men of faith and prays over the situation. Prayer is a release of our troubles to God. It is a reminder of the one who is in control of all things and submission to the King of our hearts. More than that, prayer gives angels legs. (I know, everyone thinks that angels have wings, but if you pray you can give them legs.) Prayer sends God’s army into action against the insurmountable odds.
How many angels does God send? An angel. One. Sennacherib’s army was thought to be over 10,000 people. 10,000 arms of flesh are not match for the One strong arm of our great God. He could have sent a host of angels… but it only took one. How awesome in power is our God!
How do we respond when everything is going wrong. What do we do when the enemy is at our doorstep. Prepare for what God is going to do, have faith that he will do it, and pray.
Many of us have friends that we can trust. What makes a friend trustworthy? The fact they have proven it in the past. Many of us know the strength of someone greater than us. How do we know they are strong? Because we have witnessed them win a fight before. We have seen their strength at work.
God is not just trustworthy, he is also strong. How do we know these things? Because he has proven it again, and again, and again. I can’t get over my battle with loneliness without God. I am not strong enough. You can’t fight your war with alcohol all alone. We can’t conquer the troubles in our relationship with these measly arms of flesh. We need the arm of God.
And we do not hold onto some vain hope. Our hope is grounded in the glory of eternal life with in us. God’s power is not limited to small problems. He holds the strength of the stars in the palm of his hands, blasts apart the darkness with a word, and shattered the shards of Hell with his life. He holds the power over death itself. Not just the power to keep us safe. Not just the power to keep us alive when our soul is in critical condition, but the might of his arm can raise the dead!
This is the God that we serve. This is our King. He is our LORD! Faith in him will never return void. When the enemies of life surround us we can be strong and courageous by looking at Him instead of focusing on our circumstances. We can fall on our knees and pray, “Father, send your angels! And only one angel will be enough.”