Hezekiah - It Isn't Faith Until it's Tested

It is one thing to live for God when things are good... but what about when things get bad?

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

The book of Isaiah is unique in many ways.

NUMBER OF YEARS

Last week I mentioned that it spans he entire exile from pre-exile of Israel to the rebuilding of the temple and the return of the remnant. That is from around 743 BC to approximately 538 BC when Cyrus permitted the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple. That is 205 years! Isaiah’s ministry probably spanned 40-60 years between the years of 787 BC (The start of Uzziah’s reign) and 642 BC (the end of Manasseh’s reign).

MESSIANIC PROPHECIES

"Isaiah is the second-most-quoted book in the New Testament, preceded only by Psalms.” according to the Lexham Bible Dictionary. I would add that is has the most quotes regarding the Messiah. I am not sure if there is a prophet that had MORE to say about the Messiah than Isaiah.

REVELATION OF YAHWEH

One of the things that has impressed me about the book of Isaiah is how much we learn about the person who is Yahweh. His nature, character, emotion and justice are all on display on every page! If you ever wanted to learn more about God, start by reading this book and highlighting every reference to God’s character, claims and actions!

ORGANIZATION

It is also unique. As people have tried to outline the book, it has taken on different forms:

1892 Duhm’s Commentary:

The Lexham Bible Dictionary Possible Outlines for the Book

  • (1–39)—First Isaiah, or Isaiah of Jerusalem
  • (40–55)—Second Isaiah, or Deutero-Isaiah
  • (56–66)—Third Isaiah, or Trito-Isaiah

Others:

The Lexham Bible Dictionary Possible Outlines for the Book

  • (1–39)—First Isaiah, or Isaiah of Jerusalem
  • (40–66)—Second Isaiah, or Deutero-Isaiah

The scholars have split it up many ways over the years and if you read commentaries on Isaiah you will read about first, second any maybe third Isaiah. You might even read about “mini books” inside the book, like “the little apocalypse” - chapters 24-27, or “the six woes” of chapters 28-33. It really is a fascinating volume and unique among its peers.

Most outlines will have a split between chapters 39-40. That is because there is something else unique about the book of Isaiah. The outline looks like this (from Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible)

  • Messages of Judgment and Hope (chs 1–12)
  • Oracles Against the Nations (chs 13–23)
  • Final Judgment and Blessing (chs 24–27)
  • A Series of Woes (chs 28–33)
  • More Judgment and Blessing (chs 34; 35)
  • Historical Interlude (chs 36–39)
  • The Return from Babylon (chs 40–48)
  • Salvation Through the Servant of the Lord (chs 49–57)
  • Ultimate Blessing and Final Judgment (chs 58–66)

Judgement & Blessing. Those are two of THE major themes of the prophets. However, in the middle of this judgement and blessing sandwich is a “Historical Interlude”. It is actually a historical narrative on a part of the reign of Hezekiah.

I made a statement that Hezekiah started well. A few of you commented that you felt like I began something I didn’t finish… which would have been rather ironic, actually. We actually pick up with Hezekiah in chapter 36. Four kings mentioned, and only 1 of the four has a 3 chapter historical narrative about them in the middle this most significant volume of Jewish history!

There is something of significance that Isaiah wants us to know or observe about this king.

So, let’s dive into the introduction to this historical event and set the stage for what Isaiah wants us to see:

Isaiah 36:1–3 CSB

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his royal spokesman, along with a massive army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. The Assyrian stood near the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to Launderer’s Field. Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the court secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the court historian, came out to him.

Last week we looked at the first year of Hezekiah’s reign as recorded in the book of 2 Kings. Isaiah skips all of that to jump to year 14. The events of that first year are AMAZING! Yet that is NOT what Isaiah is interrupting his book with.

What took place at year 14 that was significant enough to split this book in half and grab the attention of Isaiah? Up to this point in his ministry he has called out nations and given us a grand vision of Yahweh; and now, for the first and only time, he is pausing to notice the actions of a man who is ruling Judah.

Isaiah is living this. He is in that time, familiar with the places. He is a HUGE part of this story, so there are some details that are left out because they would be common knowledge to him, but they are lot on us.

FOR INSTANCE: if I said, “Pastor Len came from Syracuse to give us a message”, that might mean something to us, right? Syracuse is a city of about 141,000 people (as compared to Carthage NY with a population of about 3,400). It is to our South and takes about 90 minutes to get there from here.

Unpacking the Intro

In order for us to fully grasp what is taking place, we need to unpack the context of this narrative.

14th Year of Hezekiah - 701 BC.

  • 842 King Jehu if Israel (Northern Kingdom) pays tribute to Shalmaneser, king of Assyria

  • Sometime between 793-753 Jonah went to Nineveh (the capital of Assyria), preached and God spared them

  • 734 Tiglath-pileser III deported some from the Northern Kingdom (Israel)

  • 732 Ahaz, the evil king of Judah, formed an alliance with Tiglath-pileser III an plunders the temple to pay tribute

  • 727(ish) Hezekiah becomes king and restores the temple and wipes out the idols

  • 724 Shalmaneser V marched against Samaria (the capital of the Northern Kingdom) and besieged it for 3 years (2 Kings 18:9)

  • 722(ish) Samaria was conquered by Sargon II and 27,290 captives were taken from Israel into exile (2 King 18:10-12)

  • 701 - Sennacherib, son of Sargon II, attacked the fortified cities of Judah and takes them

Lachish

Lachish one of the fortified cities of Judah that was about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. it was one of the largest cities in Israel and was protected by steep ravines on 3 sides. Lachish was an important border fortress on the frontier of Judah. It is unclear when Israel took control of it. However, Lachish was an Israelite city in the territory of Judah during the United Kingdom period (Josh 15:39). Since it guarded one of the routes from the coast to Judaea, any invader was forced to take Lachish before they could attack Jerusalem.

So, Sennacherib took over the largest, fortified city and was camped there. Knowing that the horrifying news of the defeat would have gotten back to Hezekiah, Sennacherib send his messenger FROM Lachish to Jerusalem, WITH and army, to give a message to Hezekiah.

The conduit of the upper pool, near the launderer’s field

There are passages in the Bible that seem odd. Sometimes it seems like the most random details are given for no apparent reason. I want encourage you when you see a random detail to examine it! Most likely it is NOT as random as you think. Sometimes it is giving you insight into the bigger story by linking to another story with that exact detail.

This location [the conduit of the upper pool, near the launderer’s field] has been given prior in Isaiah.

Isaiah 7:1–4 CSB

This took place during the reign of Ahaz, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah king of Judah: Aram’s King Rezin and Israel’s King Pekah son of Remaliah went to fight against Jerusalem, but they were not able to conquer it. When it became known to the house of David that Aram had occupied Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the hearts of his people trembled like trees of a forest shaking in the wind. The Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub to meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him: Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah.

David Steltz share this passage with us before Christmas (the virgin will conceive - the sign God gave Ahaz).

Isaiah met Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to the Launderer’s Field and said, “do not fear, trust Yahweh!”. Ahaz did NOT listen to Isaiah and he did NOT choose to trust God. Instead he formed an alliance with Assyria. That was 732 BC

Fast forward to 701 BC and the messenger from Assyria is at the SAME SPOT with a message for the king.

  • In chapter 7 it was the messenger of God (Isaiah) with a message for the ungodly king to trust God.
  • In chapter 36 it is the messenger of Assyria (the ungodly nation) with a message for the Godly king (Hezekiah) to NOT trust God.

You have to see that to really appreciate what is happening here! Let’s go back to chapter 36 and read the whole chapter:

Isaiah 36:1–3 CSB

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his royal spokesman, along with a massive army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. The Assyrian stood near the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to Launderer’s Field. Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the court secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the court historian, came out to him.

AFTER tens of thousands of Jews from the Northern Kingdom had been taken captive, and after the major defending cities of Judah had been captured (including their biggest one and the gatekeeper to Jerusalem), the chief official of Assyria marches up to the city of Jerusalem with an army behind him waiting to speak to Hezekiah. He stands at the exact same place where Isaiah met with Ahaz about 31 years prior when Ahaz failed to trust God.

The setting is one of defeat and fear. Strongholds defeated. An army at your front door, THE army that conquered your brothers and sisters to the North and carried thousands of them away as captives.

ASK: If you were in Jerusalem, how would you feel? What would be going through your head.

Isaiah 36:4–7 CSB

The royal spokesman said to them, “Tell Hezekiah: The great king, the king of Assyria, says this: What are you relying on? You think mere words are strategy and strength for war. Who are you now relying on that you have rebelled against me? Look, you are relying on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will pierce the hand of anyone who grabs it and leans on it. This is how Pharaoh king of Egypt is to all who rely on him. Suppose you say to me, ‘We rely on the Lord our God.’ Isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?

The purpose of this encounter was to humiliate and discourage.

Hezekiah was NOT addressed as a king, but the king of Assyria is given the title GREAT king and the word king is used twice about the king of Assyria. Basically, the Assyrian is choosing publically to denounce the kingship of Hezekiah.

It was common then, as it is now, to form alliances to help when being attacked by a superior enemy. The next largest country with an army would be Egypt, but their dynasty was over. The Assyrian wanted to let the Jews know that there was not earthly ally that would be able to come to their rescue.

I really like the analogy of Egypt being a splintered staff that you lean on and it breaks and stabs you! I actually had a fiberglass walking stick that I used in the Adirondacks and one trip, I stepped off the path to let someone pass, and as I did I leaned on the stick and it snapped and almost punctured me! This image is VERY REAL in my mind - something that looks strong but when you really need to lean on it, it breaks and stabs you.

Then, the Assyrian says the Jews cannot even count on Yahweh. He knew the name of the God of the Jews and he know that the Jews would say they rely on Him, so he wants to cast doubt in their hearts.

NOW that the messenger has attempted to discourage the people, saying:

  • their king has no power or authority
  • they have no earthly allies
  • their God cannot help them

He is now ready to explain why he is standing in from of them: to demand their surrender.

Isaiah 36:8–10 CSB

“Now make a deal with my master, the king of Assyria. I’ll give you two thousand horses if you’re able to supply riders for them! How then can you drive back a single officer among the least of my master’s servants? How can you rely on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the Lord’s approval? The Lord said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it.’ ”

Let’s make a deal! Actually, this is a joke. Most likely it was at Lachish that the horsemen and chariots would have been kept, and that city was already taken. So, using satire, the Assyrian says, “I’ll give you 2,000 horses if you have riders… BUT YOU DON’T! If you cannot even mount 2,000 horses how will you defeat us as we ride in with chariots and armor?

I think verse 10 is the most sinister: “Do you think God will stop me? HE TOLD me to come attack you and destroy you!”

Isaiah 36:11–12 CSB

Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the royal spokesman, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew within earshot of the people who are on the wall.” But the royal spokesman replied, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men who are sitting on the wall, who are destined with you to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?”

The messengers of Hezekiah can see that the words of the Assyrian are doing their work and discouraging the people. They ask to speak in Aramaic, which most of the Jews would not be able to understand. Well, it seems like that was like throwing a steak to a starved dog! The Assyrian jumps on this and attempts to drive more fear into the people.

Isaiah 36:13–20 CSB

Then the royal spokesman stood and called out loudly in Hebrew: Listen to the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: “Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you, for he cannot rescue you. Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you to rely on the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will certainly rescue us! This city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ ” Don’t listen to Hezekiah, for this is what the king of Assyria says: “Make peace with me and surrender to me. Then every one of you may eat from his own vine and his own fig tree and drink water from his own cistern until I come and take you away to a land like your own land—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will rescue us.’ Has any one of the gods of the nations rescued his land from the power of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my power? Who among all the gods of these lands ever rescued his land from my power? So will the Lord rescue Jerusalem from my power?”

He gets LOUDER! He is gaining confidence and arrogance. He has been sent on a mission by the most powerful leader of that time and he is not only good at it, he plans to accomplish the work!

The next strategy is to get the people to lose confidence in their king and cause internal division. These people had experienced the goodness of God because of Hezekiah and experienced joy in some turbulent times because of the heart of their king, and now their moment of truth has come, will they trust their king?

He offers them a deal - surrender and you can stay in Jerusalem until we come and get you - and then you will go, but it will be to a good place.

THE FATAL FLAW:

I know I shouldn’, but I really like this bad guy. He is not some lame, pouting leader like Balak or some of the others. He is shrewd. He knew about the gods the Northern Kingdom had turned to. he says:

  • have the gods of any nation protected them from the King of Assyria?
  • have the gods that the Northern Kingdom served saved them? (ref: Samaria)
  • So if none of them have been successful, how can your God, Yahweh, be successful?

The arrogance of the Assyrian is so great that he claims that there is no god that can keep this man from having what he wants.

Isaiah 36:21–22 CSB

But they kept silent; they didn’t say anything, for the king’s command was, “Don’t answer him.” Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the court secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the court historian, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and reported to him the words of the royal spokesman.

They leave the road in silence and march back to King Hezekiah. Remember, the meeting was to negotiate the terms of surrender, and not to start the fighting, yet. So there was time given for these guys to report back and the king to reply.

They tear their clothes and report to the king. That sounds weir, doesn’t it? Tearing your clothes was a way to show distress or anguish. Often, upon hearing really bad news, people would tear their clothes.

And the chapter ends that way.

You leave the story with a very heavy heart. Here is a good king, doing good things for God and now this happens.

  • Have you ever felt like God has given you something you do not deserve?
  • Have you ever been discouraged by the circumstances that you see around you?
  • Have you ever faced a challenge that seemed totally insurmountable?

First, let me say that feeling like that is not a sin!

What do you do during times like these? Where do you turn for guidance or advice? What do you rely on?

Often, when I feel like those things, I feel like God is out to get me. But is it possible that the situations God allows are meant to be much more than that? Is it any coincidence that some of the greatest people of faith in the Bible faced some of the greatest opposition, challenges, depression and anguish?

Last week we looked at the heart of the king, and how he started his reign by honoring God.

Now, 14 years into it, he is facing a precipice of decision that will test the very faith that motivated his actions in his first year of leadership.

  • This is the Eve/Serpent Moment
  • This is the Cain/Abel Moment
  • This is the Abraham/Isaac Moment
  • This is the Peter on the night Jesus was betrayed Moment

THIS is a major bible theme! But it is also a major LIFE theme for God-followers. This is a moment that every follower of Yahweh, ever Jesus follower will face, multiple times but always with the same purpose [READ Deuteronomy chapters 8-11]

The purpose is to test our faith in God.

It is easy to follow God when things are going good! It’s easy to follow God when you are receiving the blessings. It is NOT always easy to follow God when circumstances seem stacked against you, when it seems like his protection and blessing are gone.

This story is YOUR STORY and MY STORY! Isaiah is sharing this story with us because it is THE story - will you trust God with all your heart, soul & strength?

Will the king be faithful to God or will he fail, like Ahaz and countless others did before him?

Tune in next week to find out.

What about you? Are you struggling? Are you tired, weary, feel defeated or discouraged? How are you handling it? What or who do you turn to?

IF YOU ARE FEELING THIS WAY: Chapter 40 is for you! It is the chapter after our story of Hezekiah, and a change in tone from so much of the doom and discouragement of the prophets. READ IT!

Let me leave you with a little encouragement from that chapter… it comes after this story, but I think you will appreciate it:

Isaiah 40:28–31 CSB

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding. He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.

God. help us to love you and trust you during the easy times and the difficult times.


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