It is not all about you, but it is all for us
by Jack Wald | September 29th, 2019

Isaiah 37:8-38

Last Sunday I talked about the historical context of the events concerning Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Sennacherib, king of Assyria, that are recorded in Isaiah 36-39. These chapters deal with a crisis in the life of Hezekiah when Assyria swept down from the north. They had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its citizens twenty-one years earlier. Now, after defeating Babylon and other powers in the east, they moved west, conquered Tyre and Sidon, swept down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea conquering the Philistine cities. Then they moved east into Judah and captured the walled cities south of Jerusalem. Now Hezekiah was surrounded. He was trapped.

Sennacherib sent his field commander to lay siege to Jerusalem and the field commander delivered an intimidating challenge to Hezekiah. Basically, he said, “What have you been smoking that you think you’ll be able to prevent me from conquering you?”

There was an American baseball player named Dizzy Dean in the 1930s who famously said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” The field commander of the Assyrian army was not bragging.

After hearing the message the field commander had delivered, Hezekiah prayed and then sent messengers to Isaiah asking for his intercession with God. Isaiah delivered the message that the field commander would hear a report that would make him withdraw. That is what happened. The first threat was over but there was more to come.

This morning we will look at the threatening letter Sennacherib sent to Hezekiah after his field commander reported to him, and how Hezekiah responded to that second threat.

If you were not here last week, you might want to go on the church website and look up last week’s sermon so you catch up on the history. And, in the RICEmail this past week, I posted a link to an excellent eight minute video that gives the history of Isaiah 1-39 and a second one you can watch for better understanding Isaiah 40-60. I highly recommend you take time to watch these videos. It will help you as we preach through Isaiah this fall.

Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem breathed a sigh of relief when the field commander and his army left but then after some time messengers from Sennacherib arrived with a letter for Hezekiah.

When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah. 
Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 

Sennacherib had no desire to give up his conquest of Jerusalem. He had been successful everywhere else and he was not going to allow this one walled city to resist him. It was a matter of pride as much as anything else.

But there came a more pressing matter. The king of Cush had risen up against him and he needed to attend to that. So instead of immediately renewing his siege on Jerusalem, he sent a letter to Hezekiah.

We don’t have a record of what Hezekiah said in his response to the threats of the field commander, but we can read between the lines of the letter Sennacherib sent to see what Hezekiah had said.

In the text from last week the field commander told Hezekiah’s three representatives:
(Isaiah 36:4–6)
‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? 5 You say you have counsel and might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? 6 Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him.

The message of the field commander from last week reveals that Hezekiah had told the Assyrians in his communications with them that his God would protect them along with his alliance with Egypt. But the Assyrian army had defeated the Egyptians and Hezekiah was all alone.

This time, Hezekiah is trusting in God alone. He has no other allies, no one else who can help him. So Sennacherib’s message attacks Hezekiah’s last defense.

“Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 

And then Sennacherib goes down the list of all the gods he has defeated. They were unable to stop him. What made Hezekiah think his god was any different?

The last time Hezekiah prayed and then sent messengers to Isaiah to intercede for him. This time Hezekiah goes directly to God to intercede for Jerusalem and Judah.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 
18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God. ” 

The message from Sennacherib was a scroll and Hezekiah took the scroll into the temple, unrolled it, placing a weight on each end to keep it open. Why did he do this? Is it that God could not read the scroll without it being opened? Didn’t God already know what was written in the scroll?

This was a symbolic action. Hezekiah laid out the scroll as a way of saying to God, “Here is my situation. I am holding nothing back from you. Only you can help me now.”

And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 

Before what God did Hezekiah laid out the scroll? Was this God able to help? Did he have power? Was this problem with the Assyrian army too big for him to handle? No! He is the Lord Almighty, God over all the kingdoms of the earth. In fact, he is the one who made heaven and earth. No problem is too great for him to handle. If anyone could save Jerusalem, it is God.

Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 

Hezekiah laid out the scroll so God could read the message. Perhaps he also read the message so God could hear what Sennacherib wrote. This is a plea for God to pay attention. God is all powerful, but is he aware of this crisis being faced by Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem? Does he care about the crisis being faced by Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem? Does it matter to God that he is being ridiculed by Sennacherib?

And then Hezekiah acknowledges the truth about what Sennacherib has written.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God. ” 

The gods of all the city states and walled cities Sennacherib had conquered had only powerless idols to protect them. They were not living gods, they were dead, inanimate gods who could be burned and hammered into dust and ashes. But the God to whom Hezekiah prayed was not a dead, inanimate god who could be destroyed. He is never powerless. There is no problem, no crisis too great for him to handle. As we read in Psalm 46:6,
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Assyrian messengers watched Hezekiah read the letter and then go off to pray. When they returned to Sennacherib and he asked them what Hezekiah said, they stammered and said, “Well, he read the message and then left to go to the temple to pray.”

Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 28:16,
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

The one who believes does not panic.

Isaiah heard that Hezekiah had gone to the temple to pray and received a word from the Lord.

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the Lord has spoken against him: 
“Virgin Daughter Zion 
despises and mocks you. 
Daughter Jerusalem 
tosses her head as you flee. 
23 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? 
Against whom have you raised your voice 
and lifted your eyes in pride? 
Against the Holy One of Israel! 
24 By your messengers 
you have ridiculed the Lord. 
And you have said, 
‘With my many chariots 
I have ascended the heights of the mountains, 
the utmost heights of Lebanon. 

Isaiah’s word from the Lord attacked the arrogance of Sennacherib. He is not the only arrogant leader in history. Power creates monsters who believe the world revolves around them and exists to serve them. They make themselves gods and want to be worshiped.

Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel made an image of gold, 30 meters high and 3 meters wide. Whenever the music of Nebuchadnezzar was played, everyone was commanded to bow down and worship the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. You will remember that Daniel and his two friends refused to do this and were thrown into a blazing furnace where they were protected from the flames.

Later Daniel interpreted a dream of Nebuchadnezzar and the meaning was that unless Nebuchadnezzar repented, God would make him like a wild animal. The story picks up in Daniel 4:28–33
Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
And Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream came true.
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

In the New Testament, in Acts 12, King Herod, grandson of King Herod who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus, displayed his own arrogance. (Acts 12:21–23)
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Today in 2019 there are too many political leaders and rulers who are so in love with power that they believe they have the right to have the world revolve around them and serve them. Arrogance is not dead.

Proverbs 8:13 tells us:
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

Isaiah 2 speaks of “The Day of the Lord”, the day of judgment that is approaching when all will be judged, and says, (Isaiah 2:11)
The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled
and human pride brought low;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

God is creator of the universe and all that is in it and will not tolerate arrogance that lifts self above who he is. And so in the word of the Lord Isaiah received, here comes the humbling of Sennacherib who thought he was the all-powerful ruler.

“But I know where you are 
and when you come and go 
and how you rage against me. 
29 Because you rage against me 
and because your insolence has reached my ears, 
I will put my hook in your nose 
and my bit in your mouth, 
and I will make you return 
by the way you came. 

Sennacherib’s arrogance will be tamed and controlled. His future would not be his own. God had a future for him and Sennacherib would not be able to do anything to resist it.

And then, to encourage Hezekiah, this word was given:

“This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah: 
“This year you will eat what grows by itself, 
and the second year what springs from that. 
But in the third year sow and reap, 
plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 
31 Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah 
will take root below and bear fruit above. 
32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, 
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. 
The zeal of the Lord Almighty 
will accomplish this. 

Three years of peace and prosperity was just around the corner. Hezekiah did not have to fear that Sennacherib would return. The walled cities of Judah would be restored to Hezekiah and there would be peace.

What happened after this? I read this from 2 Kings last Sunday. Here Isaiah quotes the same source that was used by the writer of 2 Kings.

Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 

Sennacherib continued to have military campaigns, but he did not return to Judah. However much it hurt his pride to have been defeated by Israel’s god, he would not go back. And then came his end.
One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.

Let me share five lessons from this text.

  1. When we face a crisis, there is no better course of action than to go to God and pray about it. This does not mean we should not seek wise counsel from others. This does not mean we should not analyze what is happening and develop strategies to deal with the crisis. But if we approach the crisis in a panic we will not listen well to others. We will not think clearly. We need to have a heart and mind that is at peace if we are to analyze and evaluate the counsel we seek.

Go to a place where you will not be disturbed, a place of quiet if possible. Lay your crisis out before the Lord. Open it up fully. Don’t hide anything. Admit to your weaknesses, your fears, your doubts. Don’t try to impress God with who you think you should be. Be completely vulnerable.

Express what you are feeling fully. If you are angry, express that. If you are angry with God, tell God you are angry with him. There is no emotion you should try to hide. If you are writing in a journal, write until you have nothing more to say. If you are thinking or speaking out loud, keep thinking or speaking until you have no more words.

And then sit in silence. Allow God to speak to you. If you are journaling, write down what you hear or sense God is saying to you.

Acknowledge the power and sovereignty of God. And then lean back into his arms and experience his peace in the midst of your crisis. He who created you, who sent his son to die for you, will not abandon you in the crisis you face. He has promised to bring you safely into his kingdom and he will do that.

  1. It is not all about you, but it is all for us.

It is all about God. It is God’s reputation that matters, not our own. If the world thinks less of us, that is not so terrible. But if the world thinks less of God, then that is a tragedy.

Why is this? Is God a power hungry egomaniac like so many other world leaders? No! First, only the creator God of the universe and all who live in it deserves to be given such preeminence. Only the creator God deserves such praise.

Second, only God can save us from eternal destruction. Remember that God created us, all of us, not just people in the church, but all the people in the world to come into his kingdom. That is why everyone of us was created. When the world thinks less of God, they reject the only one who can bring them safely into his eternal kingdom.

A diplomat represents the country he or she comes from. Diplomats do not express their own opinion, they reflect the views of their country. What they say and do reflects on the country they represent.

We who follow Jesus reflect our king in all that we do and say. What we say and do, how we react to crises, how we respond to insults, how we respond to those who attack us reflects on our king, Jesus. It is his reputation that should be our primary concern.

  1. We need to see the events and experiences of earth from a heavenly perspective.

We measure success and failure by standards created on earth. Wealth, fame, and accomplishments create long obituaries when someone dies. But how is that life measured in heaven?

C.S. Lewis wrote about heaven in a wonderful little book titled, The Great Divorce. In this he writes about a parade in heaven honoring a beautiful woman. The visitor to heaven asks who this impressive woman is. His Scottish host replies, “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

We pay a lot of attention to the lives of the rich and famous and we overlook those who will be honored in heaven for the lives they lived on earth.

The tragedies of earth are truly tragic. We are devastated by death, particularly the death of those who are young. We are devastated by the loss of a job, a business venture that fails, a debilitating illness or injury. It is not that heaven rejoices when these things happen, but heaven sees a greater good coming out of these tragedies. Heaven sees someone who realizes they have nowhere else to turn and pray to God for help. Heaven sees someone who realizes they are not self-sufficient and need help beyond themselves.

It is difficult to have this perspective when we are in the midst of suffering, but with the passage of time it is possible to look back and see the good that came out of the terrible experience we suffered.

The events of 2010, when the parents of the children at the Village of Hope were abruptly deported from Morocco along with another 150 foreign Christians, made that year the worst year of my life. But it was in the aftermath of all that grief and anxiety that I realized how much I had grown in faith. From heaven’s perspective that might turn out to be one of the better years of my life.

I don’t want to have another 2010. I am not a masochist. But in any future crisis, in the midst of the stress of the crisis, I will hold on to the amazing ability of God to bring beauty out of the ashes of defeat. Remembering that may not help me feel better, but it may help me to persevere.

  1. Here is a warning: Beware of using your faith to preserve your own kingdom. Remember that it is God’s reputation and God’s kingdom that is to be our primary concern.

Let’s say that your business is failing and you risk losing everything if it is not successful. Or maybe it is your ministry, your church that is failing. And so you pray like Hezekiah prayed, telling God it is his honor at stake and therefore he should rescue your business or ministry. Whose kingdom is at risk?

Oral Roberts was an American charismatic Christian televangelist, considered to be the godfather of the charismatic movement. He founded an evangelistic association and a university, both named after himself. He pioneered televangelism and laid the foundations of the prosperity gospel and abundant life teachings.

In 1977 he reported having a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus telling him to raise money to build a medical center. Ten years later he announced that the Lord had told him he would be taken home to heaven unless his supporters raised eight million dollars to support his ministries.

Regardless of what you think of Oral Roberts, he was clearly a man who had lost perspective. He may have started out with a passion for Jesus, but as his organization and budget grew, he became unable to distinguish between the kingdom of God and his own Oral Roberts kingdom. From his perspective, if his organization failed, the kingdom of God had failed. However he began, he ended up using Jesus to build his own personal kingdom.

People will take desperate measures to protect what they own and to get what they want. Using God to protect your business and to get what it is you want is an abuse of your relationship with God.

  1. How is God honored?

First, God is honored more by the life we live than by our accomplishments.

Billy Graham is honored by us because of his years of evangelism. But we would not honor him as we do if he had not lived a life that backed up all of his preaching. There had been many evangelists before him whose ministries were marred by moral failings. So when he first began he asked his inner circle to recall every stumbling block that had tripped up evangelists. They all came up with the same list—financial misdeeds, sexual immorality, inflated reports of success, and non-cooperation with local churches. Thereafter they put all team members on a straight salary, never met alone with women, used conservative attendance reports, and involved local churches both before and after crusades. Their commitment to these safeguards, shored up by regular prayer, produced an unsurpassed record of integrity.

Bill Bright who founded Campus Crusade and Loren Cunningham who founded Youth with a Mission are two more men who come to mind who created huge organizations but remained humble through the accountability systems they set up.

There are many more people whose names we do not know who have honored God in the way they lived their lives. They may not have had long obituaries and not many people went to their funerals, but when they arrived in heaven there was a huge crowd to welcome them.

Second, God is honored as much and perhaps more in our defeats than he is in our victories.

I have observed this. I worked with an organization and as with many organizations, there were conflicts and crises. What I discovered was that our greatest witness for Jesus came in the way we handled the financial and personnel crises that came our way. We wondered what the people who worked with us would think. We were embarrassed by these crises. But the people who were watching us were impressed by how we handled them. Amazingly, it was these times of crisis that were most effective in our witness for Christ.

How do we honor God? We honor God in the way we respond to illness and the death of someone we love. We honor God in the way we approach our own death. We honor God in the way we forgive those who offend us, hurt us, betray us.

We honor God in the way we persevere in marriage when it is not easy to do so. I understand why people get divorced, but I have great respect for those who suffer in a marriage where their needs are not being met and continue to try, however imperfectly, to love their spouse as Christ loves the church.

Crises will come to us. Some of us are in the middle of a crisis. It is not a happy time. It is emotionally difficult. It is not where any of us would want to be. But we hold on to Jesus who brings beauty out of ashes. We cling to him, making our lives an open book he can read. We hide nothing from him. We moan and complain. But we continue to hold on. This is the path to life.

One last thing, if you know of someone who is in a crisis, draw near and support and encourage that person. God is present with us and he wants us to have the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ as we go through a crisis. We are not meant to do this alone.

If you know someone who is going through a crisis, be slow to give advice and quick to listen. Wait to be asked for advice before you give it. Your presence is more important than any advice you can give.