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You Alone, Lord, Are God

Date: Aug. 16, 2015

Author: Michael Mark

2 Kings 18:1-19:37

Key Verse: 2 Kings 19:19

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms of earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

There are many ideas and concepts of god in the world. Some people believe in many gods, such as the Greeks, Romans, and Canaanites. Some people believe that god is just a force without a personality, like an impersonal power that randomly produces life. Some people act like they are gods. That’s a scary thought. Kings and rulers throughout history have postured like gods, demanding worship. According to the Bible, there is only one God, and that is the God of Israel. He is the God of all the heavens and the earth, but is also known as the God of Israel. So how do you know which one is true? Might I suggest one simple test for today: a god that is true is a god you can trust. Through this passage I pray it may become clear that the God of Israel is the only God we can trust, proving that there is one and only one true God in the whole universe.

Last week we witnessed the end of the kingdom of Israel. What remains now is the kingdom of Judah, with Hezekiah as king. Hezekiah was the 12th king over the kingdom of Judah, but he was a special king. Verse 3 says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.” This is one of the highest praises a king could have. King David was like the gold standard for kings. To be compared to him was a great honor. There were other good kings before Hezekiah, but none to ever do “just as his father David had done.” Hezekiah was commended for faithfulness. Verse 5-6 tells us, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given to Moses.” Through Hezekiah we can see what it looks like to trust God, and find out what happens when we put our trust in Him.

Hezekiah proved his trust in God in several ways. The first we learn is that he practiced obedience to the Lord’s commands. One of the commands God gave to Moses had to do with the place of worship. God had commanded that he should be worshipped in the temple only, and not at all of the high places scattered around the kingdom. The kingdom of Israel utterly disobeyed this command by setting up the golden calf worship. All of the kings of Judah, even the good kings, also neglected this command because they all allowed worship to continue at the high places. This changed when Hezekiah became king. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He just came in with a bulldozer and said, “No more worship here, you all go to the Temple.” This was no easy task. His own father, King Ahaz, had multiplied altars on every street corner in Jerusalem, and shut down the worship at the Temple. In 2 Chron 29-31, there are more details as to how he restored Temple worship in all of Israel. He cleansed the Temple from all that his father had done, and he sent a message to all of Israel, from the very south to the very north, calling all of his brothers to return and worship at the Temple, in the way God commanded.

Hezekiah even broke the bronze snake that Moses made, because people started to burn incense to it. The bronze snake was a symbol of God’s healing to the Israelites in the wilderness, but it was not to be worshipped like an idol. King Hezekiah was not afraid to destroy a cherished object, such as the bronze snake because it became an idol. These were not very popular reforms. How would you feel if Mayor Emmanuel shut down all of the football and baseball stadiums on Sundays and told everyone to “go to church?” I know everyone here might say, “Hallelujah!” but I think most of the city might tell the mayor to go to “somewhere else.” The people loved their idol worship, but Hezekiah did not do these things to become popular, he did these things because he trusted and obeyed God’s commands.

It could have been that Hezekiah’s reforms were doomed to fail, but quite the opposite happened. Verse 7-8 says, “And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.” The kingdom of Judah began to prosper again. The people rejoiced and brought thousands of sacrifices to the Lord at the Temple. Free will offerings were brought, so that the Levites, who were supposed to be supported by the people in the first place, received their compensation with an abundance, and more than enough to share (2 Chron 31:10). They were doing so well that Hezekiah began to expand Judah’s territory. He stopped paying tribute to Assyria, and on top of that went to capture the Philistine towns that Assyria controlled, taking them for the kingdom of Judah. In v.9-12 of this chapter, it re-summarizes what happens to the kingdom of Israel. This shows that the king knew of the danger of opposing the mighty Assyrian empire, but his strength and confidence came from his trust in the Lord. He prospered in all that he did. He is one of the most well known and famous of the kings of Judah. Songs today mention his name. He fortified Jerusalem, extending the wall around the city. He prepared the city in case of a seige. He fortified the water supply with towers, keeping it away from the enemy, and dug a tunnel to channel that water from the spring to the inside of the city. It was called Hezekiah's tunnel, and it still exists today. It was cut out of solid bedrock, and dug from 2 ends, meeting in the middle. It was an engineering marvel, and successfully transported water 1750 ft (533m), almost the length of 6 football fields. It is not an uncommon experience for Christians, that the Lord will give us success in things that are done not for our glory, but for His.

As you might guess, Assyria was not happy with little Judah stealing the Philistine cities, so Assyria came back with a vengeance. In the 14th year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Uh oh. The fortified cities were the strongholds of the kingdom. They were the cities with the stone walls and armed guards. Assyria just came in and steamrolled them. They are a powerful force to be reckoned with. Why though? How come after all the successes of Hezekiah were these cities lost so easily? And now the kingdom itself was at risk, hanging by a thread. It was because there was still sin in Jerusalem. Not everyone answered the call of Hezekiah to worship at the Temple. In fact many people scoffed at him for suggesting such a thing. Isaiah 10 gives us insight into this. There was still idol worship in Jerusalem, so the Lord uses Assyria as his instrument of judgment. But that does not make Assyria innocent either. The king of Assyria does not acknowledge God in any of its victories – instead there is a willful pride in his heart and an arrogant look in his eyes, thinking it was by his own hands he achieved success.

So what happens when you see a steamroller approaching your house? You would act fast to prevent it from destroying your home. And that’s what Hezekiah did. The only city left standing in the kingdom of Judah was Jerusalem, so he sent messengers ahead of him to the king of Assyria at Lachish, which was about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Jerusalem. The message read, “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria demanded 10 tons of silver and 1 ton of gold. In today’s value, that’s $8.75 million dollars in silver and $33.6 million dollars in gold. To show how scarce silver and gold were in Jerusalem, and to show how much of a burden Assyria put on Judah, we learn that Hezekiah had to take all the silver found in the temple and the palace, and strip the gold off of the temple doors. “What is the meaning of this,” you might think – after all of his faithfulness and success, how come Hezekiah so quickly gave in to the king of Assyria? Why didn’t he pray to God first? He may have just tried to find the quickest way to save Judah and pay back the tribute he did not pay before, maybe trusting that he could restore the treasures later. Or this might have been a test for him, and he was overcome quickly by fear and doubt. We do see later that when he has no more answers, he turns to the Lord. And that may be a lesson we can learn. We might make a mistake out of fear and doubt, but we must always remember that we can and should turn back to the Lord for his help. He is gracious and compassionate, and he will not turn away those who come to him.

The king of Assyria received the tribute, but he did not keep his end of the deal. He decided that he wanted to remove Hezekiah from power, because Hezekiah had rebelled against him earlier, and tried to form a coalition against him with Egypt and the Philistines. Instead of withdrawing, Sennecherib sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, intending to intimidate Jerusalem before attacking it. These were perhaps 3 of the most powerful men in the nation, next to the king. It would be like President Obama sending VP Joe Biden, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate, or in this situation, taunt the king of Judah. They called for the king, but instead, the king sent 3 of his own officials to meet them. The king would meet them on equal terms, since Sennecherib sent his people, Hezekiah sent his own people. It’s like the saying, “I’ll let my people talk to your people, and we’ll make a deal.”

Sennecharib’s field commander said to them, in v.19, “Tell Hezekiah: This is what the great king, the king of Assyria says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” Immediately you can see the disrespect Assyria is showing to Judah. Notice that Hezekiah’s title is never mentioned by the field commander. He never calls him “King Hezekiah,” from v.17-35. But look at how he styles the Sennecherib: He calls him “the great king, the king of Assyria.” Wow, such pomp! Such self-importance! “The great king, the king of Assyria.” So the question to Hezekiah was, “On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” And the first thing the Assyrian official says is “Egypt.” Then he goes on to say that Egypt is not dependable – you will only hurt yourself depending on Egypt. Though Hezekiah is not trusting in Egypt, we learn here that kings, especially those kings who want to be worshipped as gods, are not worthy of trust. Like Sennecherib, they may take your security money and still attack you. Or Egypt, where trusting in them will hurt you.

The field commander then says something interesting in v.22, “But if you say to me, ‘We are depending on the Lord our God’ – isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem?’ The field commander really shows his ignorance here. He thinks that because Hezekiah removed the high places, that God is angry with them. It’s interesting how news like this travels: people are really interested in how they deal with gods. The opposite was true, that Hezekiah pleased the Lord by removing the high places. Those who do not believe in God do not know him or what he requires, and often their attacks are based in ignorance. For example, I have heard an athiest say, “I can’t believe in a God that condones slavery and killing innocent people.” The Bible doesn’t condemn economic slavery, like indentured servitude, and has rules for treating bond servants. But the Bible does condemn race based slavery. It was God who said “Let us create man in our image.” The Mosaic Law in the Bible also condemns kidnapping and selling people into slavery in Ex 21:16, “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.” And God has never condoned the killing of innocent people. He would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were even 10 righteous people in the city. God does not destroy the righteous with the wicked. He is a just God, and avenges the blood of the innocent. But also, who really is innocent in the sight of God? We are all sinners before him, but he is gracious, patient and merciful.

The field commander’s blasphemies against the Lord continued to multiply. In verse 25 he says, “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.” Really? The Lord sent you, Assyria, to destroy his people Judah? To discipline, probably true. To destroy? Definitely not. This was actually common in Assyrian practice to appease the gods of the nations they wanted to destroy, to get their gods on their sides. But this also goes to show that the gods of the nations are not real gods. What gods would turn against their own people? What gods would act like hungry dogs the way Assyria describes them? His blasphemy reaches its height in v.34-35, where he says, “Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvan? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save this land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” Wow. Utter blasphemy. He just compared the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, to the vulgar gods of the nations. He put God on the same level with the common gods. This was distressing because this was they way they thought about God, and if they were victorious, God’s name could be dishonored.

Hezekiah’s officials, Eliakim, Shebna and Joah tore their clothes and reported the things they heard to him. When Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. Now see how different their attitudes were compared to the Assyrians. They tore their clothes because of the blasphemies they heard. They were distressed, and cared deeply for the honor and glory of God. Then they put on sackcloth, a sign of humility and mourning, perhaps mourning at what could happen because this great Assyrian army were surrounding them. They literally had nothing left. No money. No allies. No reinforcements, no fortresses. It was as they said in v.3, like children needing to be born, to be delivered, but there is no strength to deliver them. It seemed hopeless. But where did they go? They went directly to the Lord. They sought the prophet Isaiah to pray to God on behalf of the remnant, those who are left after the latest Assyrian assault. We can learn here that we are helpless without God, and when we come to God we should approach with confidence, and faith, but also with great humility.

Listen to what God says to them through Isaiah in v.6-7, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard – those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.” Our God is the living God! See how he answers prayer. No other God answers prayer, because there is no other God. And what was God’s answer? It was a word of comfort, “Do not be afraid.” It was a word of assurance – “those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.” God heard those blasphemous words. Nothing is hidden from the Lord, nothing is unknown to him. He knows, and he will respond with justice. God will be honored, and he will be glorified, and he shows contempt for those who disdain him. God also gave Hezekiah a promise. This is also how we know God is truly a God that is unlike any other. It’s because he can tell you what will happen in the future with 100% accuracy. Not 99.99999%, but 100%. False prophets will be wrong, even if it’s just once, if they are or were ever wrong just once, they are false. But God, who is in control of everything, will accomplish his will, and what he says will be done. So he tells Hezekiah 2 very specific prophecies: 1. Sennecherib will return to his own country upon hearing a certain report, and 2. He will be cut down with the sword.

Immediately you see the Lord beginning to work. The field commander was drawn away when the king moved on from Lachish to fight a battle at Libnah. Libnah was a smaller town not too far from the north of Lachish, so he must have moved on to capture this city as well. While at Libnah Sennecherib heard a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush (which is south of Egypt) was marching out to fight against him. I don’t think they fought yet, but Sennecherib sent messengers with a letter back to Jerusalem, since they had left for a few days, and renewed his order for them to submit. 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. Notice the childlike, simple faith of Hezekiah. He took the threatening note to the Lord and spread it out, almost saying, “Look, Lord, read what he said.” He didn’t go with anyone this time, or sent people to Isaiah, but he went to pray directly to the Lord.

Look at Hezekiah’s prayer, from v.15-19, and we can learn a lot from this prayer. In v.15 he says, “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” His prayer begins with an acknowledgement of who God is. He is the God of Israel. He alone is God over all the kingdoms of the earth. And he acknowledges that God is the creator. It’s similar to how Jesus taught us to pray, first, by praying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” We begin by giving God glory by acknowledging who he is. He is Holy, He is God alone, maker of heaven and earth. Hezekiah continues in v.16, “Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennecherib has sent to ridicule the living God.” We can learn about God from this prayer. The Lord is not some impersonal force, but he is a Spirit that has personality. He can hear, and he can see – he is the living God. He is not a dead God, or an inanimate God, but the living God.

Verse 17-18, “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waist to 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.” Hezekiah explains his situation to the Lord. It’s ok to explain your situation to the Lord, he listens, and he is understanding. And here Hezekiah contrasts the dead idols with the living God. All of the gods of the other nations are not gods at all. That is why they cannot answer, or help. That is why they cannot save the other nations, and that is why they cannot be trusted. The gods of the other nations are only wood and stone. How sad it is that people would rather trust in wood and stone, than in the living God. It is just as bad for people to abandon God, and refuse to trust him. By turning from God people lose understanding, they are plunged into darkness, and are at the mercy of wicked powers.

After explaining his situation, Hezekiah asks for God’s help, in v.19. Can we all please read v.19 together, “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” This is the prayer of the faithful. The purpose of his prayer is so that God will be glorified. Hezekiah asks God for something he cannot do, but he believes that God can do: and that is to deliver Jerusalem from the hands of Sennecherib. The ultimate aim is so that all the kingdoms of earth may know that the Lord alone is God. That’s what I love about this prayer. It shows that God is not a local god, like the gods of all of the other nations. He’s not confined to one area, or to one particular nationality. He is the God of all of the kingdoms of earth. He is the king of all kings, and the whole world must know. And they will know, because it was impossible for Jerusalem to deliver itself. They had no money, no army, no help, and the enemy was bent on taking them down. The enemy even mocked the Lord. Only the Lord could rescue them in a situation like this, and if the Lord came to the rescue, the world would know that the Lord is God, and he is God alone. He is the only one we are to worship. He is the only one we are to serve. He is the only one we are to trust, but the great thing is, he is so trustworthy that we cannot but help to worship him, to praise him and to serve him.

After Hezekiah’s prayer, Isaiah sends a message to Hezekiah. Again, Hezekiah did not go to ask Isaiah, but God responded to his prayer and God sent the message through Isaiah. Our God is the living God who hears and answers prayer. Isaiah tells him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennecherib king of Assyria.” Let’s take a closer look at God’s response. These are the words spoken against Sennecherib. Verse 21 says, “Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee.” Just as Sennecherib taunted Jerusalem, God taunts back. Assyria thinks it will take Jerusalem, but Jerusalem just tosses her head as he flees, as if saying, “hmph! You’re nothing to me.” “Go away you nuisance.” Then God convicts them of their crime, in v.22, “Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel!” Can you hear God's authority? His power? He is the true and living God! God will not be mocked; he is the judge of both the living and the dead. He is just, and righteous and holy. He is set apart, ultimately pure, ultimately good: to ridicule someone so holy is sin and blasphemy. To compare God to other gods or to put him on the same level as them is also not right.

God corrects their pride in v.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.” The Assyrians thought it was by their own power and might that they became a mighty empire, able to sweep through fortified cities. But the truth is, it was God who gave them the ability to do so, and it was God who planned for them to do it. Nothing is outside of God’s control, and nothing is accomplished apart from the will of God. Sometimes people credit their achievements to their own intellect or ability, but they steal glory from God by not acknowledging him. Each of us, all that we have, the ability we have to work, the success we have in school, the jobs we are able to work at, have been given to us by God, and we should thank God for everything we have, everyday.

God then reveals his plans against them. Verse 28 says, “Because you rage against me and because 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.” The Assyrians treated their captives like animals, sometimes deporting them with rings pierced on to their faces connected by chains. God would humble them by treating them like animals. Lastly he gives Hezekiah a sign and a promise, from v.29-24. The sign that Assyria has been taken away for good is that the people can eat for 2 years. There will be no siege, or famine, and after 3 years they will be able to go out freely, and plant and harvest crops. Hezekiah may have been worried about the next few days, but God says you will not need to worry for the next few years. And God makes a promise to Hezekiah that Assyria will not even shoot an arrow into the city. He says, “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” Hezekiah’s faithfulness was compared to David’s, and David’s faithfulness was still benefitting the kingdom of Judah almost 300 years and 12 generations later after his death.

The final verses, 35-37 are the exact fulfilment of the prophecy spoken through Isaiah (from verses 6-7). The same night God answered Hezekiah’s prayers, an angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. This was the report Sennecherib heard that caused him to return to his home. A short time later, while he was worshipping at the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons put him to death with the sword. Thus the prophecy Isaiah spoke was fulfilled, and the Lord had Sennecherib cut down with the sword. How ironic that he was killed while worshipping his own god. His god could not even save him. Sennecherib worshipped this false god, he served it, he trusted it, but in the end it proved that it could not be trusted. God, however, fulfilled his promise to Hezekiah, and delivered him from the mighty Assyrian empire. It was a great miracle, and it was an easy thing for the Lord to do. Sennecherib and the Assyrian army, and all the nations around them, could not help but to acknowledge that the Lord alone is God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was very precise. He said, “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” You alone, Lord, are God. What does that mean? It means that there is no other god except for the God of Israel. The Greek gods do not exist. The Roman gods do not exist. The Canaanite gods do not exist. Humans are not gods. Kim Il Sung is not a god. Confucius is not a god. Buddha is not a god. The Hindu gods are not gods. Hezekiah’s words are very clear, that you alone, Lord are God, and they echo God’s own words. He is a God we can trust because He is the living God. We can trust him for our daily bread, for all our needs. We can cast our cares upon the Lord, and he hears prayer. He will never turn away those who come to him. The major, most important fact that proves that God is the only God is this: he has delivered us from the hands of death. No other god has done this. No other god has taken away our death. No other god has come to suffer and die for us. No other god has risen from the dead. No other gods will forgive your sin. Some gods will even tell you there is no such thing as sin. All of the other gods will tell you, do this, do that. Meditate like this, chant like that. Eat this, not that, then you might be saved. But the God of Israel says you have no strength. You are like a child come to the moment of birth, but there is no strength to deliver you. So the Lord says I will do it, I will give you a sign, the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this, I will save you. No other god loves you like the God of Israel loves you. So he sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and to deliver you from death. He is worthy of our praise, worthy of our love, and worthy of our worship, not that he had to earn it, but because he has done so much for us and more out of his abundant and matchless grace. Who or what else is that worthy? And the message is this: Repent, and believe. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at Hezekiah – what was required for victory? Did he take up arms? Did he negotiate a deal? No, simply by faith in God, he was delivered. And by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, you too will be delivered. You will be delivered from sin, you will be delivered from death and you will be safe in the arms of God. In Christ your sins will be forgiven, your corrupted soul will be healed and made whole. Christ can do this because Christ alone is God. If you do not worship Christ, you do not worship the true God. But if you believe in Christ alone, you have found the one true God, and the one true God has found you. You alone, our Lord Jesus Christ, are God!

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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