2 Kings 19 – Week Twelve
Feeling vulnerable isn’t comfortable. Feeling vulnerable in a situation gives way to many different types of emotions. We can feel at risk of being hurt, attacked, rejected, judged, abandoned, or embarrassed. Vulnerability can develop when we are in a relationship, in the workplace, when we are trying something new or unfamiliar and especially when we feel as if we have no control. There are many situations in which we are placed that may cause us to feel at risk of something unpleasant or even dangerous occurring. One that comes to mind is watching weather radars as tornadoes or hurricanes are being tracked for their potential paths. For me, it’s somewhat terrifying to see my area covered by the color red indicating that dangerous weather is predicted.
When strong storms would occur during my childhood, my parents would often nonchalantly “suggest” that we all go to the basement to play games. Daddy would gather up a few oil lamps or flashlights. Mom would bring down snacks. They did their best to distract us and comfort us during fierce storms. Of course, my brother, my sister, and I all knew that a storm was occurring, but there was security in knowing that Mom and Daddy were there and were in charge because they knew what to do. Even though the thunder cracks vibrated the house, and lightning strikes were abundant, our parents would assure us kids that God was looking out for us and would keep us safe.
My poor kids, though. When I became a parent, especially a single parent, I did what I could to protect my children to the point of overreacting. If there was a hint of any kind of storm, I would gather them together and we’d sit in a bathtub with blankets and pillows. The girls would have books and stuffed animals. I would have a radio, flashlight, and extra batteries. I would prepare them by saying that if the roof was carried off, we needed to hunker down and throw the pillows and blankets over us. I was a nervous wreck and as a result, I made them nervous. I felt extremely vulnerable to the forces of nature and unfortunately, I passed that feeling along to my girls.
Having a strong and faith-filled leader is important when troubles come and vulnerability creeps in. We know that troubles always come and situations constantly arise that can make us feel vulnerable.
Last week we discussed how the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom were invaded, taken captive, removed from their homes, and scattered in foreign lands. All of this was done at the hand of the Assyrians. At that time, in the Southern Kingdom, the other Israelites are watching this all unfold. There had to be a sense of vulnerability in Judah; it would have been difficult to feel at ease with the enemy at your backdoor. The Israelites in the Southern Kingdom must have considered themselves at risk of an Assyrian attack. But their king, Hezekiah, was the perfect man to be their leader at that time. At the time that the Assyrians wiped out the Northern Kingdom, he had been the king of the Southern Kingdom for six years.
2 Kings 18:5 ICB “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah. There was no king like him, before him or after him. 6 Hezekiah was loyal to the Lord. He did not stop following the Lord. He obeyed the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with Hezekiah. He had success in everything he did.”
I don’t know how much comfort the Israelites found in Hezekiah’s relationship with God. My guess is that even though King Hezekiah seemed to have some favor with God, the Israelites still considered the Assyrians a threat. The Israelites knew the Assyrians were not good people. They were evil people with a strong military – not a great combination. In fact, the Assyrians were somewhat like a mafia.
By this time in 2 Kings, the Assyrians have acquired quite a reputation. “Known for their excellent combat strategies, they were also feared for ripping their prisoners alive and slitting different parts of their body. And while they pioneered in using iron weapons and light horse-drawn chariot, they also ranked high on having the bloodiest warfare method, callously displaying piles of human skulls to promote fear among other nations.”[i]
And they sought to profit from those fears. Other nations were forced to pay tributes to them. These tributes were payments of considerable amounts that did two things: First, they showed submission to the Assyrians, and secondly, they bought protection. As long as the surrounding nations paid their tributes and complied with any demand, they were somewhat safe from an Assyrian attack.
King Hezekiah had been king for six years when Assyria had taken captive the fellow Israelites. Now, eight years later, Judah, the Southern Kingdom finds itself being attacked. You see, years earlier, Scripture reveals that King Hezekiah had “rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to pay tribute any longer.” (2 Kings 18:7b TLB)
But the rebellion had not gone unnoticed, and the king of Assyria goes after Judah. King Hezekiah does what is basic human nature. “He said, “I have done wrong. Leave me alone, and I will pay anything you ask.” So the king of Assyria made Hezekiah pay about twenty-two thousand pounds of silver and two thousand pounds of gold. 15 Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasuries. 16 Hezekiah stripped all the gold that covered the doors and doorposts of the Temple of the Lord. Hezekiah had put gold on these doors himself, but he gave it all to the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 18:14 NCV)
King Hezekiah looks for the easiest and quickest way to resolve the conflict. He pays up the ransom. But that isn’t the end of it. The Assyrian king sends forth high-ranking officials to deliver a message to King Hezekiah. King Hezekiah sends his top officials to receive the message.
2 Kings 18:19 ERV “The commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah this is what the great king, the king of Assyria says:
‘What are you trusting in to help you? 20 If you say, “I trust in power and great battle plans,” then that is useless. Now I ask you, who do you trust so much that you are willing to rebel against me? 21 Are you depending on Egypt to help you? Egypt is like a broken walking stick. If you lean on it for support, it will only hurt you and make a hole in your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, cannot be trusted by anyone who depends on him for help. 22 Maybe you will say, “We trust the Lord our God to help us.” But I know that Hezekiah destroyed the altars and high places where people worshiped the Lord. Hezekiah told the people of Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship only at this one altar here in Jerusalem.”
23 ‘If you still want to fight my master, the king of Assyria, I will make this agreement with you. I promise that I will give you 2000 horses if you can find enough men to ride them into battle. 24 But even then you couldn’t beat one of my master’s lowest ranking officers. So why do you still depend on Egypt’s chariots and horse soldiers?
25 ‘Now, do you think I came to this country to destroy it without the Lord’s help? No, the Lord said to me, “Go up against this country and destroy it!”
The Assyrians are basically taunting the Israelites. They’re attempting to diminish the power of their allies in Egypt. They use the fact that Hezekiah had eliminated the unlawful places of worship down to one, therefore, insinuating that God’s presence had been minimized. They offer a “head-start” kind of benefit by agreeing to supply them with 2,000 horses to use in battle but make it clear that even that won’t help them. And then, in a final blow, the Assyrians claim that it was God who sent them and that He was on their side.
After this rant, the Israelite officials ask the Assyrians to speak in a different language so that the other Israelites standing around won’t be able to understand the threats being hurled at them. It’s a bit like when parents talk in code or try to spell things so that their children won’t understand what’s happening. But this request just makes the Assyrian officials talk louder.
The main spokesperson addresses all of the Israelites within earshot and tells them not to listen to King Hezekiah. He tells them not to believe Hezekiah when he assures his people that the Lord will save them. The Assyrians are undefeated. The Israelites don’t have a chance. He not only insults their king, but he also belittles their God. The Assyrian official tells the people to surrender to him, showing that they come in peace. He offers them food and new land to live in. He boils it down to this: choose us and live or stay here and die.
King Hezekiah’s officials report back to him in torn clothes signifying their sadness. The situation is bad; the outcome doesn’t look promising. People are scared, they feel threatened, and they’re feeling vulnerable. I can’t say that I blame them. To me, this is like looking at the Doppler radar and seeing that the dangerous storm is nearly on top of you. Take a note here, underline it in your Bible and commit to memory King Hezekiah’s immediate response to the dire news.
2 Kings 19:1 ESV “As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.”
In that one verse, King Hezekiah, after hearing the threatening news, does three things. Three symbolic things that apply to us today.
He tore his clothes. There are other instances in the Bible in which people tore their clothes. When Job heard that all of his children had been killed he “arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.” (Job 1:20 NKJV) “When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.” (Genesis 37:29 HCSB) Likewise when Reuben and Joseph’s father was told the news, Jacob “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.” (Genesis 37:34 NIV)
The tearing of clothes was often done as a response to a tragic situation. It was an expression of sorrow, grief, mourning, and sometimes anger. Taking that into consideration, why would King Hezekiah have torn his clothes? Was he experiencing remorse for submitting to the earlier threat and paying the tribute even though it didn’t provide protection? Was he angry or upset that his people had been threatened? Was he showing solidarity with his officials because they too had torn their clothes? Or could it have been that the blasphemous words spoken about his God caused him such grief?
I think all of those reasons are justified but I can’t help but think that a man who trusted the Lord, was loyal to the Lord, followed the Lord, and obeyed the Lord would not have been the least bit saddened with what was being said about his Lord.
How often and to what extent are we mourned and grieved to hear people disrespect and dishonor our God? Would you agree that we’ve become so desensitized to hearing God’s name taken in vain? We hear it in movies, television shows, and even in everyday conversations and it might ruffle our feathers a bit, but do we actually grieve at each instance? We hear fellow Christians use His name in irreverent ways and we usually do and/or say nothing. I was watching a church service several weeks ago and the pastor himself used the acronym “OMG”. To use another acronym, that’s not “OK”.
There are other ways in which God is dishonored. I was in a conversation not long ago when someone made a flippant remark about God not caring about what was happening in their life. In regard to a major decision, this person said, “I know that some people might think God is interested and involved, but I just don’t believe that.” I felt punched in the gut because how could anyone I know not believe that God is involved? Before I could stop myself, I interrupted this person. I told them God WAS interested and God WAS involved because people had been praying on their behalf. There were others in the conversation, and they shared the same sentiment. We had interceded for this person and had asked God for help. Later that evening, I was troubled by much of the conversation, and I was replaying everything in my head. I thought about the responses given to this person. I wanted to think I had spoken in love and not judgment. I wanted to believe that our words were spoken, not for us to sound spiritual and righteous, but rather all for the glory of God. In going over a lot of what had been said, I realized that we had been defending God’s love, character, authority, and sovereignty, and I felt very peaceful. Not because God needs us to defend Him, but because when you love someone, that’s what you do.
We’ve all been in situations in which someone we care about is talked about in a negative way and hopefully, we’ve demonstrated our love and stood up for that person. Hopefully, we’ve defended them and made it known that we didn’t want to hear gossip, lies, or negativity. If we’re so quick to defend our family members or our friends, how much more so should we be in standing up for God?
The second thing King Hezekiah does is cover himself with sackcloth. This would have been “a sign of grief and self-humiliation.”[ii] Hezekiah is king, he’s the leader, but he knows that God is Lord. He knows that God is the ultimate authority and before he goes before his Lord, he humbles himself.
James 4:10 ESV “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
The third thing that Hezekiah does in verse one is to go into the house of the Lord. He goes to worship and to pray.
Before he secludes himself in the Temple, King Hezekiah sends word to Isaiah the prophet. 2 Kings 19:3 ICB “Today is a day of sorrow and punishment and disgrace. It is sad, as when a child should be born, but the mother is not strong enough to give birth to it. 4 The king of Assyria sent his field commander to make fun of the living God. Maybe the Lord your God will hear what the commander said. Maybe the Lord your God will punish him for what he said. So pray for the few people of Israel who are left alive.”
King Hezekiah’s words and the example he gives tell us how distraught and vulnerable he was feeling. He’s acknowledging that he alone doesn’t have the strength to deliver his people. It’s interesting to me that King Hezekiah isn’t certain that God heard the blasphemous words. He says, “maybe the Lord will hear”; in some translations, it’s said, “perhaps the Lord will hear” is used. King Hezekiah loved the Lord, he trusted the Lord and was loyal to Him. Still, in his despair, despite doing what was right before the Lord, Hezekiah needs reassurance that God is involved or interested in what is happening.
I’m going to assume we’ve all felt that way at some time. Whether the situation is big or small, we may wonder if God hears. We may have wondered if God cares.
It doesn’t take long for King Hezekiah to be reassured of God’s interest. 2 Kings 19:5 ICB “When Hezekiah’s officers came to Isaiah, 6 he said to them, “Tell your master this: The Lord says, ‘Don’t be afraid of what you have heard. Don’t be frightened by the words the servants of the king of Assyria said against me.”
Not only had God heard, but God was also handling it. But the king of Assyria doesn’t realize that. He’s still on the warpath.
Threats and rumors of wars pop up all around, but the king of Assyria takes time to write King Hezekiah a note. 2 Kings 19:10 CEV “10 Don’t trust your God or be fooled by his promise to defend Jerusalem against me. 11 You have heard how we Assyrian kings have completely wiped out other nations. What makes you feel so safe?”
See Hezekiah had prepared himself and gone to the Temple for safety from his enemy just like my parents had prepared us and taken us to the basement for protection from the storm. But the king of Assyria, in his letter, is trying to get Hezekiah to crawl to the bathtub and cower in fear and prepare for defeat like I used to do.
But I love what King Hezekiah does with the letter. He takes it and spreads it out for the Lord to see. He physically takes the letter to God. And he prays.
2 Kings 19:15 HCSB “Lord God of Israel who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are God—You alone—of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. 16 Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. 17 Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made by human hands—wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 Now, Lord our God, please save us from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God—You alone.”
Hezekiah acknowledges Who God is and all that He’s done and he asks that God do what only God can do and for the very purpose of God being glorified. “Hezekiah recognized it was not his own reputation that was at stake; it was God’s.”[iii]
How often do we forget that we are the living, breathing, working, functioning representatives of God to a very broken and threatening world? When we retaliate against someone who has done us wrong, what are we saying about God’s forgiveness and love? When we do what is dishonest and unfair, what are we demonstrating about God’s holiness and righteousness? When we allow ourselves to drown in worry and fear, what are we testifying to God’s love and sovereignty?
1 Corinthians 10:31 DRB “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.”
To prove that God indeed heard Hezekiah’s prayer, Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that God will keep them safe. He assures Hezekiah that Assyria will not shoot a single arrow at them. They won’t even enter the city. And God tells him why. 2 Kings 19:34 HCSB “I will defend this city and rescue it for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.” David had died some 300 years prior, but God still remembered and kept His promise.
I would have loved to see the look on King Hezekiah’s face when he got the news of what God had done. Because that very night, “the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35 HCSB)
“Simply and powerfully, God destroyed this mighty army in one night. 185,000 died at the hand of the angel of the Lord. Against all odds, and against every expectation except the expectation of faith, the Assyrian army was turned back without having even shot an arrow into Jerusalem. The unstoppable was stopped, the undefeated was defeated.”[iv]
Because one man sought God. Something incredible happens when we involve God in what troubles us and humbly ask that He be glorified as a result. What would have happened to the Israelites had King Hezekiah not gone to the Lord on their behalf? We’ll never know. I do know this. Our friend, the one who wasn’t sure if God was involved or interested, the one who we prayed for on their behalf? That friend experienced a God-driven miracle two days later. The unexpected occurred. What was far beyond what we prayed for was how God responded. To God be the glory!
Something incredible happens when we involve God in what troubles us and humbly ask that He be glorified as a result.