What do we do when life seems to be tumbling in on us? Do we refuse to do anything? Are we paralysed with fear? Or is there a better way?
Consider Hezekiah, king of Judah. He had implemented reforms which had brought his country back to God. But all was not going well politically. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had attacked and taken the fortified cities of Judah including Lachish. Jerusalem was the next city in his sights. He sent a message to the people of Judah.
“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! For this is what the king of Assyria says, ‘Send me a token of your submission and surrender to me. Then each of you may eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land just like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Hezekiah is misleading you when he says, “The Lord will rescue us.” Have any of the gods of the nations rescued their lands from the power of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Indeed, did any gods rescue Samaria from my power? Who among all the gods of these lands have rescued their lands from my power? So how can the Lord rescue Jerusalem from my power?’” (Isaiah 36:16-20 NET).
When Hezekiah heard what had been said he did three things: he tore his clothing, put on sackcloth and went to the Lord’s temple. The first two were not how we would react to a distressing situation from which there seems to be no rescue. But these were very much the cultural way to react by showing that you were in mourning and that you want to approach God in humility. The last thing he did serves as a good example for us: he went to talk to God.
“Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers and read it. Then Hezekiah went up to the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord. Hezekiah prayed before the Lord: ‘O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, O God of Israel, who is enthroned on the cherubim! You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the sky and the earth…It is true, Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all the nations and their lands. They have burned the gods of the nations, for they are not really gods, but only the product of human hands manufactured from wood and stone. That is why the Assyrians could destroy them. Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power, so all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.’” (Isaiah 37:14-20)
God answered Hezekiah’s prayer through the prophet Isaiah. God was aware of what Sennacharib had been doing. He was aware of the threats and insults he had made. God’s message was this:
“‘He will not enter this city, nor will he shoot an arrow here. He will not attack it with his shielded warriors, nor will he build siege works against it. He will go back the way he came—he will not enter this city,’ says the Lord.” (Isaiah 37:33-34)
That night the ‘angel of the Lord’ killed 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. “When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses!” (Isaiah 37:36). Sennacharib went back to Nineveh and was assassinated by two of his sons.
What is the lesson for us? When we feel overwhelmed by what is happening, take it to the Lord in prayer. God cares for us. Although the answer to our prayer may not be as dramatic as Hezekiah’s, God does answer prayer. He may not answer the way we want, but his answer will always be what we need and what is best for us, whether we see this now or not.
Photo by Patrick Boyns: Taylor Prism (record of Sennacharib’s reign), British Museum, October 2003.
Readings for next week: 2 Kings 19-20; Isaiah 37-40; 2 Chronicles 32