Note to the reader
I preached this sermon on Sunday morning September 9, 2018 at the University Church of the Nazarene on the campus of Africa Nazarene Univerity (Ongata-Rongai, Kenya). It was part of the “prayer” theme announced for the month of September.
Hezekiah has always amazed me. He is that rare king in Israel’s history who pleased the LORD and walked with integrity. May we be like Hezekiah.
“Hezekiah’s Prayer” (2 Kings 19:14-19, NIV)
“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: ‘LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear: open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
It is true, LORD, that the Assyrians 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 human hands. Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.”
His name was Dominick. He was big; I was small. He was tough; I wasn’t so tough. He stood in my way on the road, grabbed the handlebars of my bike, and sneered:
Where do you think you’re going, punk?
My little boy’s heart beat fast with fear. What do you say to someone so scary, someone much taller and stronger than you? Then I had an inspiration. “Dominick, you may be bigger than I am, but my brother is bigger than you are!” Reluctantly, he let me go.
There have alway been bullies like Dominick in our world. They strut on the world stage and throw their weight around. King Sennacherib of Assyria was one of them. He stood in the way of little nations and threatened to beat them up. 1 Kings 19:12 lists some of the nations that had crumbled before the Assyrian armies – Gozan, Harran, Rezeph, Hamath, Arpad, Lair, Sepharvaim, Hennah, and Ivvah. Like a row of dominos, one-by-one, they capitulated.
THE THREAT TO JUDAH
King Hezekiah took the threat very seriously. 2 Chronicles 32:1-5 gives a parallel account. They heard the news that the Assyrian army was coming from Lachish, so they took action. The King ordered that the water outside the city be cut off. If Sennacherib’s thirsty army was determined to lay siege to Jerusalem, then why give them something to drink when they arrived? Next, he ordered the city’s walls to be reinforced, and he added watch towers to be constructed on the walls. Finally, they made large numbers of weapons and shields.
Brothers and sisters, hear me: When faced with the enemy’s threats, don’t remain idle. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
SHALL YOUR GOD SAVE YOU?
2 Kings 18:17 tells how King Hezekiah’s delegates went out to meet Sennacherib’s officers outside the walls of Jerusalem. The Assyrian strategy was clever. Today, we would call it “psychological warfare.” They knew that before a single arrow flew, before a single sword was drawn, they could win the battle. How? By sowing fear in the hearts of the Israelites. It’s an extraordinary scene as the Assyrians bullies begin to taunt them. “So you’re trusing in Egypt? They’re a broken reed.” Then they belittle Israel’s god. “Did the gods of the other nations save them? Of course not. So what makes you think your puny god will be any different?”
And then the field commander takes it to a whole new level. In 18:27, he warns that when he’s done with them, they’ll be so defeated that all they’ll have to eat is their own poop. All they’ll have to drink is their own pee! Then he switches from “the stick” to the “carrot.” “Surrender now,” he says, “and we’ll give everyone a fig tree and a water cistern. You’ll have sweet figs to eat and fresh water to drink.”
The Assyrians spoke all these things in Hebrew. They’d learned the tongue of the people. Hezekiah’s officers shushed them, trying to get the Assyrians to speak in Aramaic instead, but to no avail. What was going on? It was a clever attempt to drive a wedge between King Hezekiah and his people. But here’s the good part. 2 Kings 18:36 records the reaction of the people who had been standing up on the wall and listening to the Assyrian threats and promises. Their response? Silence. The people spoke not one word, in obedience to the King’s command.
The devil will do all that he can to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ. But the devil is a liar. He’ll say anything he can to divide us. We must stay united.
It was 1776 and the United States had just declared its independence from England. Ben Franklin was among those who heard the reading of the Declaration of Independence. In response, he warned:
We must hang together, or else surely we shall hang separately.
Let us remain united, brothers and sisters. Don’t dignify the devil’s lies with a response. Stay silent, and keep trusting in the LORD our God.
HEZEKIAH GOES TO PRAYER
In the face of the enemy’s insults, in the face of the enemy’s lies, the people said nothing. But if they said nothing to Sennacherib’s spokesmen, that doesn’t mean they said nothing to God! Hezekiah took the letter that contained all the threats, all the insults, and he went to the Temple. There, he laid the letter out before the LORD God. Hezekiah knew that strong walls, high towers, shields and swords could only do so much. He knew that his strongest weapon was the LORD himself. Hezekiah offers a simple prayer that affirms several important things:
- Only God is God. God is enthroned between the angels, the cherubim. Only Yahweh is God over all the kingdoms of the earth. What is he saying? This is not a battle between two local gods. This not a fair fight because Yahweh is not the God only of the Jews. He is the God over all the earth, and that includes Assyria. God’s jurisdiction is global.
- God is Creator of heaven and earth. The same God who made Israel made Assyria. The Creator has authority over all creation, not just part. A child may take a lump of clay and make a horse. She might play with it for a while then grow bored, so what does she do? She crushes the clay, remolds it and makes a giraffe, or an elephant. That’s an image of our God. Only God is sovereign, and so God has authoriy over all creation, including Assyria and its armies. God can crush and remold as God sees fit.
- Sennacherib has not so much insulted Israel as he has insulted Israel’s God. “Listen, LORD,” Hezekiah says. “Look! These words from Sennacherib are an insult to the living God.” The king makes sure to underscore whose honor is at-stake.
- Hezekiah acknowledges that the threat is real. More than anyone else, Christians are reality based. In the face of cancer, in the face of problems, we don’t deny the reality of sickness or the reality of life’s difficulties. We are convinced that reality is not complete if it leaves out the reality of God. And so Hezekiah never denies that there are thousands of soldiers banging at the gates of Jerusalem, threatening destruction. But instead of allowing the threat to result in fear, the threat drives him to faith and to fervent prayer. In Ephesians 6:10-20, we find the same lesson. When in spiritual warfare, Paul says we must put on the shield of faith “above all” (v.16) and also “offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time” (v.20).
- Hezekiah pleads for deliverance. Listen to 2 Kings 19:19 – “Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.” Notice he never says that he and the people were in any way worthy of being delivered, that they deserved God’s favor. Something more important was involved. God’s reputation was on the line. Would Israel’s God be powerless like the gods of the surrounding nations? People were watching.
- It’s not so much prayer that is powerful but the God to whom we pray. Yes, James 5:16 (CEB) tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” In that sense we are correct to speak of the “power of prayer.” The danger in phrasing it that way, however, is that it may glorify the one who is praying rather than the One to whom we pray. Prayer is merely the means by which we communicate with the One who loves us and can act mightily in our lives. Let us keep the focus where it belongs, on God, and not on us.
No sooner had King Hezekiah finished praying than a messenger from the prophet Isaiah arrived. The rest of 2 Kings 19 records the message from the LORD. It’s long, but it boils down to this:
Hezekiah, relax. God’s got this.
Verses 35-37 recount the rest of the story. (WARNING: It’s not for those with weak stomachs.) God sent his angel at night. The angel of the LORD slayed not one thousand, not ten thousand, not one hundred thousand. The angel slayed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! When the Israelites woke up the next day, they saw the bodies scattered on the ground in front of the wall. The Assyrian army commanders beat a hasty retreat, and the army returned to Assyria in defeat. But that’s not all. We learn that King Sennacherib himself some time later was worshiping in the temple of his god, Nisrok. Sennacherib’s two sons snuck into the temple, drew their swords and struck down their own father. It was a tragic end for a King who had insulted the high God of Heaven.
LESSON FOR US
I don’t know what armies you’re facing today. It might be financial problems, sickness, or addictions. Like Sennacherib, they’ve encircled you and are calling for your surrender. Remember: The battle is the LORD’s. Go to the LORD in prayer, and never forget: It is God Himself who is your strongest weapon. Call upon God to deliver you, and the LORD will answer.
Hezekiah: Free Bible Images
Hostage: By Alexandru Panoiu from Bucharest, Romania (Uh-oh! What have I done?) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Shield/swordplay: By No machine-readable author provided. Steff assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons