Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Friendly Fire" or Outrageous Accusations or Gossip: When our reputation is on the line.

This guest post is written by none other than my amazing husband.  I cannot tell you how timely his words.  Our church is currently working its way through The Story which is the Bible written in a novel format.  This week we studied the story of Hezekiah.  Many who will read this are unaware of what our family is currently dealing with  but for those who know what we have encountered in the last 48 hours this post is right on time.  Not only that but my husband wrote this several years ago.  In the middle of a stressful situation he sent it to me yesterday and as I read, I was overwhelmed by God's perfect timing and faithfulness.  Please take the time to read and be encouraged!! 


2 Kings 18-19


What do we do when we’re under attack from others? Whether it’s “friendly fire” from other Christians, outrageous accusations from those who are out to bring us down, or gossip coming from people who have nothing better to do, how do we handle that? It’s difficult enough when our reputations are at stake, but what do we do when there is more on the line than our reputation?

In the middle of 2 Kings 18, we find the king of Assyria threatening to attack Jerusalem. At the time, Hezekiah was the king of Jerusalem, and he knew these were not empty threats. The king of Assyria had not only the capability, but every intention to attack Jerusalem and take the people captive.

Assyria had already done the same thing to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Over a period of many years they had gone on a rampage, extending their reign of terror all the way to attacking and capturing cities in the Southern Kingdom. Now they’re ready to attack its capital.

There are times we are forced to deal with people who come against us. Sometimes they’re just verbal attacks. Other times they make empty threats, and yet other times these people have every intention of inflicting as much pain as they possibly can. Sometimes they have the ability to carry out their threats, other times they are empty and meaningless. When people come against us like this, we don’t always know what their true intentions are or are not, and we experience anxiety, angst, and sometimes torment as we struggle to work through it all.

Look specifically at the threats the king of Assyria is making. In 2 Kings 18:17, he has sent messengers to give a specific message to Hezekiah. Strategies to threaten and scare people today differ little from strategies used back then:

  • He builds himself up. “This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says…”
  • He questions their source of confidence. “On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” In doing so, he questions specifically their military strength, their strategy, and their allies (see vs. 19-21). Not only does he cause them to question those areas, he causes them to question their confidence in what was most dear to them, the Lord their God: “And if you say to me, ‘We are depending on the Lord our God…’”
  • He tries to get them to compromise and make a deal: “Come now, make a bargain with my master…”
  • He claims that he is the one doing God’s work: “Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.”
  • He intentionally sends this message to Hezekiah in such a way so that others hear it. Hezekiah’s messengers responded by saying, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall. But the commander replied, was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall…” This is an attempt to create division and cause God’s people to question their loyalty to Hezekiah.
  • He attempts to persuade God’s people to turn away from Hezekiah’s leadership and not to trust in the Lord their God. In doing so, he claims that Hezekiah is the one deceiving them. He turns his attention to the people and says, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah….” Look specifically at verses 28 – 35 for the full picture of how he goes on and on in this attempt to turn their hearts away from Hezekiah and their trust in the Lord. He finishes this attempt to discourage and dissuade God’s people by saying, “Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

From the beginning of time, one of the most common strategies to discourage and threaten people is half-truths. There is enough truth mixed in with the lies that it could have easily caused God’s people to question their loyalty and faith in Hezekiah and the Lord their God. It’s a normal response for us to question what we know to be true when people come against us with half-truths. This is the case even more so when they throw in “God talk” or claim that they are the ones with God on their side. It can be incredibly disheartening and discouraging.

Hezekiah was not immune from this discouragement. In the beginning of chapter 19, we see Hezekiah’s response. “When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord.” Thankfully, Hezekiah didn’t stop there. While it might have been easier in that moment to throw his hands up in the air and throw the towel in, he didn’t give up. This is often a decision point for us. While it’s very normal to be discouraged, we must not give up. Hezekiah sought the Lord in the midst of his discouragement and we must do the same.

First, he sent messengers to Isaiah, a prophet of God. In those days, the word of God came primarily through prophets, so this was a normal place for Hezekiah to go in seeking out God’s wisdom in the situation. For us today, while we can and should seek out godly counsel from God’s people, we should start with God’s Word. Open your bible, pray, read, and expect to hear from God. Not three minutes glancing over a paragraph, but earnestly praying, reading, and listening. Even if there is not a clear answer like Hezekiah received from Isaiah, you will find wisdom and encouragement when you diligently seek after God in the midst of your storm. In short, he fights deception with the truth of God’s Word.

The report comes back from Isaiah for Hezekiah not to be afraid and that God will deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. What’s interesting though is that the story must play out. The threat is real, the sword is real, and the soldiers are real. Even though Hezekiah has been told that God will deliver His people, it doesn’t happen immediately. God will provide, God will protect, and God’s plans will ultimately prevail, but it’s always in His timing, and so the drama and difficulty continue.

In the midst of these messages between Hezekiah and Isaiah, there is more action out in the field. The king of Assyria gets word that the king of Egypt is on his way to fight against him. At this point the king of Assyria amps up his threats against God’s people. We read the king of Assyria’s response in chapter 19, verses 10-13. 

“Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And you will be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them: the gods of Gozan, Haran, Reseph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?”

He doesn’t say anything new. He only repeats what he has already said. And here we see yet another strategy used by the ungodly as they threaten God’s people. When they run out of other threats, they just scream louder and with more intensity as a scare tactic. 

In the case of Hezekiah, it didn’t work. Hezekiah’s confidence remained in God and God’s ability to deliver His people. But look specifically at what Hezekiah did in response. In 19:14, he took this latest threat to the Lord in prayer. But again, it wasn’t a ten second prayer mumbled in passing. It was diligent. It was earnest. It was heartfelt. He specifically went up to the temple, spread out the latest letter from the king of Assyria, and prayed specifically about the situation. Look at what he prays and how he goes about it in verses 14-19: 

“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. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”

Of all the different aspects we could note about his prayer, the three main characteristics that stick out are that
  • Hezekiah praised God for His uniqueness as the one true God and the maker of heaven and earth.
  • Hezekiah had confidence in God’s ability to deliver His people, and
  • Hezekiah asked God to deliver His people for God’s fame and renown, not his own.

We would do well to not just pray, but to pray earnestly and model aspects of our own prayer for deliverance to  Hezekiah's prayer. Trust that God alone is the one true God and praise Him as such. Believe that God has the ability to deliver you and fight for you, and ask God to do it for His own glory, not yours.

This is one area where prayer and bible reading go hand in hand. When you have difficulty believing these promises, read His Word. Focus, meditate, and dwell on His Word. And as you read, ask God (pray) for the confidence to believe fully His promises about you and your situation as you read.

In response to Hezekiah’s prayer, God sent him a message through the prophet Isaiah. We read the entire message in 19:20-34, but the short of it is that God will deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. We read in verses 33-34, 

“By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”

We must believe that God is powerful and can do whatever He chooses to do. God’s deliverance from this threat and the conclusion to this story is found in verses 35-38. 

“That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.”

The bible is replete with examples of the mighty and powerful hand of God. He may choose to use you or not use you, but one thing we can be certain of is that He does not lack the ability or strength.

In this particular story, God delivered His people using an angel of the Lord. In other places in the bible, He used nature (rocks, hail, storms, wind, etc), His own people fighting against the enemy, the enemy fighting against themselves, and sometimes He just changed the heart or mind of the enemy to bring about deliverance. No matter how He does it, the point is that God’s arm is not too short and that He is able to bring about what He chooses.

One last thought about this story is in order. While Hezekiah did the right thing by seeking out God’s Word through Isaiah and through prayer, and while his example is a model to how we can handle such threats, that’s not all he did. He didn’t stand idly by and do nothing else. He took measures. Yes he prayed, yes he sought after God, but he also did what he knew to do and what he thought was best. His actions were not limited to prophet and prayer. This same story is recorded in 2 Chronicles 32. We read in that chapter that Hezekiah also consulted with his officials, blocked the water flow to the land, worked hard at repairing and building the all around the city, made large numbers of weapons and shields, and appointed military officers over the people (see 2 Chronicles 32: 2-6).

Are his actions and all the measures he took contrary to his faith in God and God’s ability to deliver Jerusalem? Absolutely not. He knew that God could fight for them, but He also knew that sometimes God uses us to bring about our deliverance. He did what he was able to do, but he did it trusting all the while that God was stronger than their enemies.

For us, it means that while we pray and seek after God in the midst of our storm, we also do what we are able to do practically. Not in our own wisdom and strength, but trusting that God is with us and able to accomplish His purposes, with or without our help.

In fact, in the verse immediately following all the preparations Hezekiah made, we read these words that Hezekiah used to encourage God’s people. 

“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. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

The fact of the matter is that our storm may not always end with our complete deliverance as we read about in the way God fought for Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. God allows us to go through storms, but doesn’t always bring about the resolution we want. He may or He may not, that’s up to Him to decide.

However, in the midst of the storm, in the midst of the threats and accusations from those who oppose you, in the midst of the trials you are facing, take encouragement from how Hezekiah handled his storm. Pray specifically about your situation. Read His Word. Do what you can practically. Seek after God. Trust that God is mighty, powerful, and able. And believe that the maker of heaven and earth is for you and will never leave your side.