The Terror of the Night

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Some things are all or nothing, all in or not in at all, but no half measures – maybe you can think of a few good examples: getting in a boat, abseiling, parachute jumping, Olympic diving You just can't do those things a little bit can you?  You either get off the pier or you don't, you either jump off the cliff or you don't.  You can't do a bit of a parachute jump.

And there are many things in life like that, some with massive consequences.  Think of getting married or even better having children – once you do it, there's no going back, you're a parent for life, and your life will change, it will never be the same as it was before you were a parent.

Today we're going to see, or be reminded, that trusting God is one of those all or nothing things.  You either do or you don't.  God calls us today to go all in for him, to put everything on the line for him and to hold nothing back.  He does it through Hezekiah, a small King in a small city who faces down a great enemy with nothing more than prayer.  Hezekiah goes all in for God – he puts it all on the line for him.  And God honours Hezekiah and rescues him from disaster.

So I want to show you just two things from this passage

First Hezekiah puts it all on the line for God

Second God's strength is shown in weakness; and

Point One: Hezekiah puts it all on the line for Yahweh

Have a look at verse 1-4 with me:

1 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. 2 He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."

If you weren't hear two weeks ago, or if you've forgotten, what Hezekiah heard was a series of threats from the King of Assyria.  The Assyrian army is camped outsideJerusalemand he sends messengers to say come out and surrender or I'll come in and kill you all – and there's nothing than anybody, not man or god can do to help you.  You can listen again to Rich's sermon on our website. Now it's clear from Hezekiah's response just how serious this situation is isn't it?  There's no more military solutions – he doesn't send envoys to Egypt for help; there's no more bargaining – he doesn't ask for terms – there is only prayer, that's all he's got left.

And we need to know that this is a situation of Hezekiah's making.

His father Ahaz had voluntarily entered into a military alliance with Assyria to get out of a tight spot whenIsraelandAramwere threateningJudah's northern border.

But Hezekiah broke the alliance.

And we need to know that the Assyria King was not the sort to be breaking promises to.  The Assyrian's were the first known world empire.  As they conquered they drafted their victims into their army. So as the empire grew so did their power.  They'd been unstoppable for a couple of generations by this point and there was no country on earth who could touch them.  Hezekiah knew that.  It's just a couple of short years since they destroyed allJudah's neighbours.  Countries much bigger and more powerful thanJudahwere completely wiped out.  Countries likeIsraelandAram, countries that threatenedJudah, now completely destroyed.  Powerful fortified cities completely razed to the ground.  The Kings words in chapter 18 were no idle threats.  This was a military super power that makes US power look feeble – they were not only vastly superior to their enemies, but they had no moral restraint whatsoever – they were utterly ruthless – if you resisted they killed every man, woman and child and reduced your nation to dust and ashes – literally.

So why would Hezekiah rebel againstAssyria?  What was he thinking?  The text doesn't say – but I think its clear that Hezekiah breaks withAssyriabecause of idolatry.  Back in 2 Kings 16 (which we looked at last year if you were here) Hezekiah's father – King Ahaz, who was a big time idol worshipper, he sacrifices some of Hezekiah's brothers to his gods – Ahaz invited Assyria into an alliance because he needed help against his northern neighbours – Aram and Israel.  2 Kings makes it clear that this was a rejection of God, who was supposed to beJudah's rock and salvation.  And so when the Assyrian King destroyed Aram Ahaz was so impressed that he built a replica of Assyria's altar and set it up in the temple inJerusalemto worship Assyrian idols there – in God's temple!

One generation later Hezekiah has worked to get rid of idolatry inJudah.  Among the idols he removed were the gods ofAssyria.  But the idolatry went deeper than just honouring their gods.  Practically the military alliance with Assyria was a form of idolatry too –Judahlooked to them for security and safety instead of to God.

So, in faithfulness to God Hezekiah does away with the foreign gods and breaks his alliance withAssyria.  And look where it gets him.  It puts him fair in the path of the greatest war machine that had ever existed to that point.

For a comparison we might like to think of the first gulf war in the early 90's.  Remember that? IraqinvadedKuwaitand threatenedSaudi Arabia, so aUSled coalition put almost 1 million troops on the ground, supported by the most fearsome technology ever deployed in battle – smart missiles, ubber bombers, stealth fighters and all the rest.  Saddam Hussein promised the 'mother of all battles' but with 2 days of ground war starting he withdrew his troops, and within 4 days he was negotiating a cease fire.  He didn't recognise it, but he was ludicrously out gunned.  Starting that war was practically suicidal.  And that's the sort of situation Hezekiah was in – except he's not delusional like Saddam Hussein, he makes no claims to military supremacy, he knows he's outgunned.  He has a wall and a relatively small city – just a few thousand or tens of thousands, including women and children.  And facing him is a vast army  of seasoned troops, an army that has just destroyedSamaria, and every other fortified town and city inJudah.

This is David and Goliath – and I don't just mean that figuratively – you knowSwansea's playing Man United, it's a David and Goliath Battle folks… no I mean it in it's historical and theological sense.  This is a re-run of David and Goliath.  Remember how Hezekiah was introduced in ch 18 – he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his Father David had done.

And what did David do?  He put it all on the line for God.  And never was that clearer than when he went out to face the giant Goliath armed with only a sling and a few stones and his confidence in God.

Now Hezekiah has his Goliath moment.  Sennacherib threatens God's people and God's city.  And like Goliath Sennacherib bad mouths God.  And like Goliath everyone can see that there's no way Sennacherib is ever going to lose to little old Hezekiah.

Now Hezekiah isn't as full of confidence in God as David was – but like David he won't back down, he's put everything on the line for God, and there he stands, he has nothing else but God.

I've been labouring the point, but think about how ludicrous this must have looked to everyone.  Look at Hezekiah, he's in a military emergency, the worst military crisis to hitIsraelfor 300 years – and here he is running back and forth to the temple.  His closest advisors are priests and palace officials – not a general or a soldier among them.  And the special advisor he runs to for help is the prophet Isaiah.

After one round of frantic prayers and calls to the prophet Hezekiah gets the news that it's going to be OK, God will rescue them (vs6), he will lure Sennacherib away, not with military might and strategy, but with words (remember Sennacherib's put down – you don't have might or strategy, just empty words). Words are all he has, but words will rescue him.  God will send a report that will draw Sennacherib away to his death.

But Sennacherib and his generals must have been laughing – look at this fool, he really thinks he's going to survive.  How many prophets have we heard say that?  But not one god has ever rescued their people from me, it's so obviously stupid.

So when Sennacherib hears a report of military action fromEgypt(remember how he saidEgyptcouldn't save them?) he leaves to deal with it – but he wants to make sure that this ridiculous prophecy doesn't give Hezekiah hope.  So he sends a threatening letter, verses 10-13.  The gist of it – don't let your god deceive you, no one can save you from my hand, no god has ever rescued their people from me. Trust your god and you will die just like all the other kings I've killed…

So again Hezekiah goes running off to the temple.  This would be laughable if it wasn't so serious wouldn't it?  Imagine if David Cameron dealt with the economic crisis like this – back and forth to Westminster Abbey, looking for economic advice from the Archbishop.  Imagine the outcry from the papers – he's going to ruin us all.

Surely at some point Hezekiah will wake up and realise that he's living in a fools paradise?

Well that depends doesn't it?  That depends on whether the God that Hezekiah is depending on is real, and involved in the lives of his people.

Listen to Hezekiah's prayer, verse 15:

15 "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. 16 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. 17 "It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 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. 19 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." Hezekiah prays to the God who he knows personally – Yahweh (translated here 'LORD') is his name and he chose to make his dwelling in the temple inJerusalem, in the holy of holies above the mercy seat. Jerusalem is his city.  But this Yahweh isn't just a local god, he is the creator and ruler of the whole earth – all the Kingdoms of the world belong to him.  And this Yahweh isn't blind and deaf like the idols of the nations – he's living and active, he sees what is written and hears what is said, and he acts to defend his reputation.  Sennacherib hasn't just insulted Hezekiah, he's insulted the God who made him, the God who gave him his vast empire, the God who enabled him to defeat all those other false gods and their nations.

And so Hezekiah prays – not just that he will be saved andJerusalemwith him, but a much bigger prayer than that – he prays that Yahweh's glory would be seen in all the world when Yahweh pulls off yet another impossible rescue.

Hezekiah put it all on the line – his life, and  the lives of everyone inJerusalem, his whole kingdom was on the line – and he could do it because he knows God and he knows that God is good for it.  God is powerful, God is present and God is active.  And if God doesn't save, there's no point looking else where for help.

And Hezekiah puts it all on the line because he loves God.  He knows that God has set his love on his people and given them great promises to be with them and to live among them.  Therefore he knows that God's glory is seen in his people – for good or ill, when they rely on military alliances and idol worship they dishonour him; but when they rest on him alone they honour him, and he is well able to rescue them even now.  Hezekiah puts it all on the line because that's the only way to make sure that God gets the praise and the glory that he deserves.

So what happens?   Well there should be no great surprise at this, but God saves.  Let's look at that as our second point:

Point Two: God's strength revealed in weakness

Hezekiah prayed to the God who is not deaf and not blind.  Let's look at God's answer to all this talk from Sennacherib:

21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him (Sennacherib): "`The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises you and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. 22 Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! 23 By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord. And you have said, "With my many chariots I have ascended the heights 9of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests. 24 I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt." 25 "`Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. 26 Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up. 27 "`But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. 28 Because you rage against me and 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.' …

and look down to verse 32:

32 "Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: "He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. 33 By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. 34 I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant."

It speaks for itself doesn't it?  God says I won't be mocked, not by Sennacherib and not by anyone else.  Sennacherib was right to mock the false gods of the world, the idols and so on, but Yahweh is no false God, he is Sennacherib's maker and Lord.

Sennacherib is like a little boy who's never lost a fight against any of his toy soldiers and now thinks that means he can fight real soldiers too.  He's failed to distinguish between false gods and the true and living God.  He's spent so long on the throne that he's started to think himself a god.  Not so, there is only one God and Sennacherib is about to learn all about it.

If this all sounds familiar to you it should. God says have you not heard?  Long ago I ordained it.  As a matter of fact everything that's happened from 2 Kings 17 - 19 was revealed in advance to Isaiah and Hezekiah's father Ahaz, you can read it in Isaiah 7-12. 

Do you not know?  Long ago I ordained it.  In days of old I planned it, now I have brought it to pass.  And now Sennacherib, because you rage against me I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth and take you back.

So it turns out Sennacherib is not so mighty after all.  To go back to the gulf war analogy we've got it all backwards – Sennacherib is not theUSforces ready to blowIraqaway.  He's the deluded one.  He makes crazy boasts – I'll give you the mother of all wars Yahweh – but the one enthroned in heaven laughs.

And Hezekiah?  He looked crazy.  But he knew the difference between a King and a mere servant.  He knew the difference between military might and strategy, and the almighty power of God's word; God's word which brings creation out of nothing, God's word which will never be thwarted.

And just so we can be sure that this isn't just talk, that all this wasn't just a huge co-incidence God confirms his power by destroying the Assyrian army and putting the Assyrian King to death.

Look down to verse 35:

35 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! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 37 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.

In Isaiah 10 God promised to destroy the sturdy warriors in a single day.  And so he did.

So I want you to notice the irony here.  Sennacherib taunts Hezekiah – you have no might or military strength, all you've got are empty words.  He's right, Hezekiah had no might or military strength, all he had was words.  But they were no empty words, they were the words of the LORD God almighty.  He didn't need strategy and strength, he needed to trust in God's word.

So what are we to make of all this?  Well I want to suggest that God's strength is still seen in weakness, if we would just lay it all on the line for him.

Not many of us will ever find ourselves in Hezekiah's position, or anything like it – we're not Kings, leaders of countries, let alone the leader of God's people in God's holy city around his holy temple with his specific promise that we will be protected from our enemies.

Those historical realities have passed away.  But, on another level, the challenges that Hezekiah faced are the same challenges that we all face – in the face of threats from sin, the world and the devil, will we stand on God's promises, or will we give in to fear and seek safety and security in worldly things?

Sennacherib is presented in ch18 as like a repeat of the snake in the garden.  Like the serpent he twists God's words to undermine confidence in God.  His promises are gross parodies of God's promises – and like the snake he promises freedom but intends slavery.

And against deceitful Sennacherib we see faithful Hezekiah who models for us how to stand firm in faith.  Faced with temptation to doubt God he stands firm.  He doesn't hedge his bets, he doesn't pay lip service to trust in God while running off for reinforcements fromEgyptor investing in a 'don't invade my country tax'.  He lays it all on the line.  God is my only strength, my only security, God's word is all I've got to trust in, and I'm staking everything on that.

Of course Hezekiah's not perfect – next chapter he'll come crashing back down to earth.  But here he serves as a forerunner to Jesus, who similarly puts everything on the line for God – entrusting himself to God even to death; exposing Satan's lies and rejecting the temptation of short cuts to offer up his life for us.

Can you feel the weight of that challenge to us?

I'm increasingly convinced that the biggest challenge we face as Christians in the first world is double mindedness.  We're not so much like Hezekiah as we are like some of his forebears – we know God, we follow him – but only up to a point. We're willing to listen to his word and to believe in him, but we're unwilling to invest everything, we're not confident enough to put everything on the line for God.  We say we trust him for heaven, but we struggle to trust him for now – so we follow Jesus, but we hedge our bets, we lean on all sorts of other things to find security – investments, savings, education, achievements, networking… we make little compromises day after day.  And when we're faced with temptation we don't trust God that following him will be better, we run off to provide for ourselves, take Satan's little short cuts and indulge ourselves.

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