Would you rather be the person who feels great fear in the face of small threats or the person who feels little fear in the face of great threats? Our Bible study today in the book of Isaiah will look at this question as we examine the lives of two of the kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem long before Jesus was born.
AHAZ AND HEZEKIAH
The prophecy of Isaiah contains some of the most vivid foreshadows of our Lord Jesus Christ in all the Old Testament, as well as many passages of prose of great beauty and power, but it contains only a few narrative sections in its sixty-six chapters. In those narrative chapters, however, are the stories of King Ahaz and King Hezekiah. These two kings are implicitly compared to one another, Hezekiah being the righteous king who evidently loves and serves the LORD and drives out wickedness, and Ahaz being unrighteous, a king who worships foreign gods and engages in idolatry and immorality and leads Judah into deep sin. Hezekiah walks closely with the LORD, while Ahaz ignores and despises the LORD.
LIFESTYLE HAS CONSEQUENCES
If life went along exactly as we wanted it to go and if we were always more than competent to overpower any and every threat from the outside, then I suppose that the approach of either king would work, and maybe Ahaz would be okay. But you and I live in a world where things often go very differently from what we wanted and where threats are both common and often overwhelming. And, it turns out, Ahaz and Hezekiah lived in that kind of a world, too. Because King Ahaz had chosen a lifestyle of idolatry and disobedience and of despising the LORD, he was terrified when faced with a small threat. On the other hand, when King Hezekiah was faced with a vastly greater threat, because he trusted in the LORD and knew of the LORD’s power to save and deliver, he expresses no fear. Instead, Hezekiah seeks the LORD and cries out to Him in prayer, and he is delivered.
THE “THREAT” TO AHAZ
In Isaiah 7, we read of the threat that came upon King Ahaz. “Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it but could not yet mount an attack against it (Isaiah 7:1).” How will King Ahaz respond to this threat? “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind (7:2).” So, both the king and his people are completely distraught by these two armies. This response might make sense, until we examine the situation. First, the reign of Pekah king of Israel was noteworthy because of all the cities and territory that he lost to Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). By that time in their history, Israel was weak and disorganized and had no army to speak of at all. In fact, in about ten years Israel would be carried away into exile by Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria. Pekah was no threat. Second, we read in 7:1 that these two armies “could not mount an attack against Jerusalem.” Whether they were incompetent or cowardly is not clear, but the fact that they could not even manage to mount the attack is rather pitiful. Finally, we read the LORD’s assessment of the situation: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands (7:4).” The LORD speaks to Ahaz about the two invading armies with derision and tells Ahaz that there is no need to fear.
THE POINT: Ahaz faced a trivial threat, but “his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Because King Ahaz chose to disobey and despise the LORD, any and every threat was a terrifying threat.
THE THREAT TO HEZEKIAH
We turn now to Isaiah 36 to read of the danger facing King Hezekiah. “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them (36:1).” This has a haunting ring to it, since only a few years earlier Shalmaneser king of Assyria had destroyed Samaria and taken Israel into exile. And this current Assyrian king has already taken all the fortified cities of Judah and now he approaches Jerusalem “with a great army (36:2).” The Rabshakeh speaks for “the great king, the king of Assyria,” and taunts Hezekiah’s trust in the LORD and warns of the destruction that will come if they do not surrender. The spokesman then tells of all the victories Assyria has already won; Hamath and Arpad, Sepharvaim and Samaria, and says, “Their gods did not deliver their lands. How will the LORD deliver you out of my hand?” Oh, this threat is real, and it is serious. What will King Hezekiah do?
Hezekiah’s response is a model for anyone who is facing a threat that is way beyond their ability. Because this man walked with the LORD and sought the LORD regularly as part of his lifestyle, he was ready when he needed to cry out to the LORD in distress. Notice that, despite this overwhelming threat, Hezekiah never expresses fear. You will search the text in vain to find words of fear from King Hezekiah. “As soon as King Hezekiah heard it (the words of the Rabshakeh), he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD (37:1).” WOW! What a response! But that’s just for starters. Then the king sent a contingent to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz confessing that he was overwhelmed, and he needed the LORD to help. He also mentioned that the king of Assyria had mocked the living God. Isaiah says, “Do not be afraid. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land (Isaiah 37:6-7).” You need to read the full story yourself in Isaiah 36-37, but in the end, “the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when the people arose in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies (37:36).” So, Sennacherib went home.
THE POINT: King Hezekiah faced an overwhelming threat, one that he could never handle on his own, but he responded with courage and trust and prayer because he walked closely with the LORD. Because King Hezekiah chose to obey and honor the LORD, even a tremendous threat was not a cause for fear. Because Hezekiah’s confidence was in the LORD, even the great threats of man produced no fear.
When you were not a follower of Jesus, you feared what the pagans feared, and you had no promise of any protection from the Lord. You were like Ahaz, and small threats produced big fears. But now, you walk with the Lord and you have all the promises of the Scripture to secure your confidence. Like Hezekiah, you are among the company of the redeemed and you can say with Jeremiah, “The LORD is with me like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11).” And if the Lord is with us, we are “not to fear what the people fear, nor be in dread (Isaiah 8:12).” Like Hezekiah, we make the Lord our fear, and we make Him our dread (Isaiah 8:13) and we trust our great God and cry out to Him when threats arise.
SDG rmb 12/05/2020